Strong cranberry crop coincides with Wisconsin’s down year

Guillermina Hernandez pushes cranberries toward a conveyor Sept. 23 during a harvest on the Long Beach Peninsula. Washington and Oregon are producing strong harvests, though global production is expected to be down. The combination may help Northwest growers struggling with low prices.

Strong Northwest harvests and a sub-par crop in Wisconsin may boost Washington and Oregon cranberry growers.

The harvest in Wisconsin, by far the top cranberry state, will be below expectations, holding down total global production, according to Ocean Spray, which takes in more than half the world’s commercially grown cranberries.

U.S. cranberry growers are struggling with a huge surplus driven primarily by large Badger State crops and increasing production in Canada and Chile.

A serious supply-and-demand imbalance remains, even though cranberry consumption has increased 8 percent in the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Average prices farmers receive have been roughly halved since peaking in 2008.

“With the anticipated smaller industry crop, we do not expect inventories to increase this year, particularly in light of the strong demand we have seen over the past few years,” Ocean Spray spokeswoman Sarah Gianti said Tuesday in an email.

The Massachusetts-based cooperative, which many Washington and Oregon growers belong to, projected in October that the global crop would reach 12 million barrels, which would top the record 11.94 million barrels harvested in 2013.

With the harvest nearly over, Ocean Spray forecasts the crop will fall short of the 2013 mark and be less than the 11.81 million barrels reaped last year. One barrel equals 100 pounds.

Wisconsin was projected to produce about 5 million barrels, but winter damage and a May frost lowered yields, said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. “I’ve been hearing that it’s at least a firm 10 percent down,” he said.

Meanwhile, Northwest cranberry growers enjoyed an unusually warm growing season. “This is the best crop we’ve ever had,” said Ilwaco cranberry grower Malcolm McPhail.

“It’s pretty much true for our area here,” he said. “It’s just kind of a remarkable year.”

Washington State University horticulturist Kim Patten, who works with cranberry growers in both states, said per-acre yields are high, rivaling levels typical for Wisconsin but rarer in the Northwest. “If we can do that, we can compete,” he said. “We’re all excited Wisconsin has an off-crop this year.”

Gianti said smaller crops are expected in New Jersey and Quebec, Canada. Massachusetts and British Columbia, Canada, are expected to have strong crops, she said.

Ocean Spray took in 430,000 barrels from Chile in June, almost a record. The cooperative began taking berries from the South American country in 2012.

While foreign production has increased in the past several years, so has U.S. production. The cranberry inventory before this fall’s harvest began was 9.1 million barrels, according to the federal Cranberry Marketing Committee. In a September market outlook, the USDA’s Economic Research Service said another large crop likely will put more downward pressure on prices. The cranberry industry reduced surpluses in 2001 and 2002 with federally approved volume controls. The USDA this year rejected a request from the industry to order production cutbacks, saying it was concerned U.S. growers were conspiring with Canadian growers to limit supply.

Lochner said he doubts volume controls can be used again. “If Canada doesn’t agree to limit harvests, it’s going to be very difficult for U.S. growers to say, ‘We’re going to cut back production,’” he said.

The USDA has supported the industry by buying large amounts of cranberries for schools and food banks.

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