Cranberries are headed north
Farmers see signs that the climate-sensitive cold-loving berries are shifting their range into Canada. Blueberries, too. What's to be done?
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"Quite often, when you would get into late October or the first of November, there would be an inch or two of ice on the bogs when it was time to harvest the cranberries. And that was not a rare occurrence â€“ that was a common occurrence," says Mr. Beaton, outgoing president of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association (CCCGA). He can't recall a time once during the past 10 years when the cranberry harvest was delayed because of ice. The CCCGA, founded in 1888, represents 87 percent of the cranberry growers in Massachusetts.Skip to next paragraph
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Cranberry growers can flood bogs to shield their crop from winter frosts and summer heat, thereby protecting the cranberries from temperature extremes. Other berry growers cannot resort to such tactics, as most berries cannot survive submerged for very long.
A sharp frost in late April 2007 ravaged grape and blueberry blossoms that had emerged during an unusually warm period, killing up to 90 percent of the blossoms from Missouri to Alabama and the Carolinas. This type of stop-and-go winter is exactly what people in New England's lucrative berry industry are concerned will become more frequent.
Some researchers are less concerned about temperatures being cold enough to mature fruit than they are with erratic weather patterns brought on by climate change. More frequent droughts and floods, as well as salt-water incursion from hurricanes and rising sea levels pose serious risks.
"The more frequent occurrence of extreme weather is probably what is going to hit us first," says Serres. "If [droughts and hurricanes] happen more than once every five years, it's really going to impact the industry."
Drought, coupled with unseasonably warm weather, has reduced the average size of a cranberry by roughly one-third this year. The United States Department of Agriculture had forecast a Massachusetts yield of 180 million pounds, a yield now expected to fall short by some 31 million pounds, according to the CCCGA. At about $45 per 100-pound barrel, that translates into roughly a $14 million shortfall. Massachusetts produces one-third of the world's cranberries, surpassed only by Wisconsin.
"There has always been some fluctuation to some degree," says Jeff LaFleur, executive director of CCCGA, but not to this extent, with 30-million to 40-million-pound swings in production lately. "These swings seem to be really too aggressive," he says, pointing to unprecedented variations in temperature and rainfall.