Ron Drollett, who has 65 acres of cranberry bogs in Plympton, says “it’s a bumper crop,” and industry surveys indicate Massachusetts growers are poised for their biggest crop since 1999.
On the bogs of southeastern Massachusetts, the cranberry harvest has begun and the early returns are encouraging. Industry surveys indicate Massachusetts growers are poised for their biggest crop since 1999. The rainy summer, while putting a damper on weekend plans, was a welcome contrast to last year’s arid conditions that depressed crop yields.
“It’s a bumper crop, no question about it,” said Ron Drollett, who has 65 acres of cranberry bogs in Plympton. “Mother Nature did its job this year.”
Massachusetts is the nation’s second-largest producer of cranberries after Wisconsin. About 14,000 acres of land are devoted to cranberry production.
The Bay State is expected to produce 1.9 million barrels of cranberries this year, according to a report last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That would represent a 25 percent increase over 2007, and the biggest crop since 1999. The harvest will continue through early November.
Local growers surveyed by the government through Sunday had harvested 5 percent of their crop, with most reporting average or above-average fruit sizes and fruit in good condition.
“The weather in the last month has been favorable for development,” said Gary Keough, director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s field office in Concord, N.H. “I don’t think it’s been too wet or too dry.”
Last year’s mild winter and spring helped lay the groundwork for the season, said Jeff LaFleur, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association.
“The early indications are the crop is going to certainly meet and probably exceed (1.9 million barrels),” LaFleur said. “Everything’s held up, the fruit has continued to size and the crop is really developed fairly well.”
One critical part of the season takes place for several weeks in June when growers bring in beehives to pollinate the plants, Drollett said. Wet weather disrupts the bees activity, but June was dry and good for pollination, he said.
And despite a stormy early summer, growers reported very little hail damage.
Peter Beaton, whose family owns 200 acres of bogs and manages another 400 acres in southeastern Massachusetts, said the harvest is off to a strong start.
“We have gotten into some regular picking and the crops really seem to be pointing in the direction of a real good year,” said Beaton, owner of Bayside Agricultural Inc. in Wareham.
The early harvest is taking place on bogs that were recently renovated and yield lower production, Beaton said. Although the berries are smaller than normal, volume is up.
Whereas last year’s drought depressed yield to approximately 130 barrels per acre, some bogs are now producing 180 barrels per acre, Beaton said.
According to the agricultural statistics bureau, Massachusetts growers were paid $46.60 per barrel in 2007. Prices are expected to approach $60 this year, Drollett said.
Prices offered by processors are expected to rise slightly over last year, LaFleur said. Growers who are members of the Ocean Spray Cranberries cooperative sell the crops on consignment to the company, so the final prices from last year’s crop will not been determined until Ocean Spray sells the processed product. However, the 2007 crop is expected to pay $52 a barrel and 2008 is estimated at $60, said John Isaf, a spokesman for Ocean Spray.
In addition, Ocean Spray Cranberries is offering a $3-per-barrel premium to some growers who bring in early berries, which can be processed into concentrate immediately rather than frozen in storage.
Drollett, a grower for 31 years, began harvesting last week and was encouraged with the results.
“Even the poor growers are going to grow a good crop this year,” he said.
Steve Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.