Ocean Spray growers, independent growers and the current surplus of cranberries

<p>Cranberries like these are among the most important cash crops in Southwest Washington, with farms in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties producing about $8.1 million in annual income for farmers. The 27 farms on the Peninsula (650 acres) hire about 20 full-time employees and about 75 seasonal employees.</p>

Nationwide, there are 650 cranberry growers who own the Ocean Spray Cooperative. In an effort to keep supply and demand in balance, Ocean Spray growers are limited in expanding their acreage. There is no limit on the independent growers. They operate individually. In general, Ocean Spray produces about 65 percent of the juice, sauce and fresh berries on the market and 80 percent of the sweetened dried cranberries. While some concentrate is sold at auction to other juice companies, 90 percent of Ocean Spray products are value added, which brings higher returns to cooperative growers.

Ocean Spray is constantly building new markets and introducing new products to increase the demand for cranberries. One example is sweetened dried cranberries under the brand name Craisins. Over the past seven to eight years the Craisins market has boomed and is now 20 percent of the business. Ocean Spray is the only cranberry company that does national TV advertising such as with Justin and Henry.

Over-production

There is some concern about over-production from the 2012 crop. The Ocean Spray growers have three-year contracts and are currently not allowed to add new acreage. The cooperative continually tries to keep our supply and demand in balance. Renovation of current acreage with new and improved varieties is, however, allowed. When more fruit is needed, Ocean Spray then allows more acres to be planted or allows new growers to join the cooperative.

The cranberry industry was in balance as recently as 2010. Because of excellent growing conditions the past two years in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, Ocean Spray had a moderate surplus. This surplus can be assimilated over a couple of years if growing conditions return to normal.

The Ocean Spray crop this year was up 12 percent to a total of 6.3 million barrels. The industry total was 11.2 million barrels.

Quebec and Price

The Quebec government has encouraged cranberry expansion with guaranteed loans, etc. In 2012, with their new acreage and excellent growing conditions, Quebec growers produced 35 percent of the independent total barrels, 1.75 million barrels out of 4.93 million. The independent price in Quebec is expected to settle at the $15-20/bbl. level. (A barrel (bbl.) equals 100 pounds).

Ocean Spray growers should receive about $60/bbl for the 2012 crop with the final payment in June 2014. The independents in other areas will receive about half of that amount unless they find a niche market or sell fresh fruit.

Cranberry Farming in Pacific and Grays Harbor Counties

There are a total of 1,858 acres in Washington state. There are four farms of 60 total acres in the Warrenton, Ore., area that are part of the Washington Ocean Spray group.

This past year (2012) this area produced 128,992 barrels of cranberries, of which 120,773 were Ocean Spray.

There are a total of 127 growers of which 111 are Ocean Spray growers. The 16 independent growers produced 8,219 bbls. or 6.5 percent of the total. One farm is transitioning to organic and produced about 200 bbls.

In this area, we have an Ocean Spray manufacturing plant at Markham, near Aberdeen, which manufactures Craisins, cranberry sauce and packs fresh fruit. They hire 137 year-round employees and 75 seasonal. The receiving station at Long Beach hires five year-round employees and 10 seasonal.

The 27 farms on the Peninsula (650 acres) hire about 20 full-time employees and about 75 seasonal employees. The 100 growers (1,200 acres) in the Grayland area hire about 20 full time workers and 150 seasonal. They have smaller farms and do mostly dry harvest. The farm gate value for the Pacific/Grays Harbor area is about $8.1 million.

Organic Cranberries

There are 1,858 acres of cranberries grown in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties. One small, 10-acre farm is transitioning from conventional growing practices to organic. While there is a good market for organic juices and berries, the problem is in the growing of the fruit.

Cranberries, a perennial crop, present several obstacles for the organic grower: nutrition, weeds, diseases, and insect pests.

First, it is difficult to supply adequate nutrition. With most organic crops, animal manures can be used as fertilizers and worked into the soil. Most crops can be cultivated between rows or between crops. A transitioning cranberry farm that has been well cared for will provide three to five years of lingering nutrition and weed control. High producing cranberry bogs will use 30 to 50 pounds of actual nitrogen per year with three times that number for phosphate and potash. It is pretty much impossible to supply those amounts organically, so one would expect a yield of 10 to 25 percent of conventional yields.

Weed control is a major problem to grow cranberries organically. Horsetail and yellowweed (yellow loosestrife) are impossible to control organically once established. Weeds can take over quickly in the moist conditions of a bog.

Another problem is plant diseases. A common disease in this area is lophodermia or twig blight. Non-organic growers put on two fungicides a year to combat this disease. Once an organic farm gets infested by this disease, there are no control options available.

Finally, insects are harder to control organically. Black-headed fireworm can wipe out a crop by burning back the tips. Conventional farms would put on two to three sprays a year to control this pest; organic farmers have to spray more with weaker insecticides.

Because of very low prices on the independent side due to oversupply, we may have some independent growers with fewer markets that will try to transition to organic. I don’t anticipate any Ocean Spray “A” pool grower will leave the cooperative. For a discussion of organic fruit growing, visit fruitgrowersnews.com

Malcolm McPhail has a Ph.D. in soils and plant nutrition and served as an area agronomist for WSU Extension service from 1970-85. While with WSU Extension he worked with hundreds of organic gardeners and farmers. He has been an Ocean Spray cranberry grower for 32 years.

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