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US (WI): Cranberry prices squeeze growers

New cranberry vines at the Wetherby Cranberry Co. will eventually double yields at its Warrens bogs. But that’s not much help when the berries sell for less money than they cost to produce.

A saturated cranberry market is driving down prices at a terrible time for regional growers. Many have made big investments in recent years to expand their bogs.

The pricing is especially troublesome for growers who don’t belong to the large cooperatives that sell to major manufacturers such as Ocean Spray.

Cranberry farmers who don’t belong to a cooperative are getting $22 to $28 per 100 pounds for their fall crop, said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. It costs them $25 to $30 per 100 pounds to grow.

Producers in Monroe and Jackson counties account for more than a third of the state’s cranberry production, which leads the nation.

The VanWychen family has operated the farm since 1903 and sells to independent handlers. It has weathered tough conditions before.

“It just makes you, as a grower, be as diligent as possible about how and where you spend your money,” Nodji VanWychen said. “If you’re a newer or younger grower it becomes much more difficult.”

Cranberry grower Jim Bible, who belongs to a cooperative that sells to Ocean Spray, said he’s thankful for the innovation and marketing his relationship with Ocean Spray provides.

Bible grows cranberries on 120 acres in Jackson County, and he’s projected to get $61 a barrel, which is more than three times as much as his independent grower peers in light of the market swing.

“We’re doing pretty well ... If they’re not in Ocean Spray, I know the price is pretty depressed,” said Bible, who’s been growing full time since 1984. “That Ocean Spray logo is insulating us from the ups and downs of the commodity swing.”

A flood of Canadian berries into the global market triggered the latest price drop. A relatively new player, the country’s harvest was far beyond what was expected, Lochner said. Canada barely had any production 15 years ago; their bogs now are the second largest regional producers in the world.

The US Department of Agriculture has agreed to buy $5 million worth of cranberry juice concentrate for domestic food-assistance programs, long-time commodity purchase programs funded by tariffs.

Source: lacrossetribune.com

Publication date: 5/16/2013


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