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A Bitter Year for MA Cranberries?

Among the states, Massachusetts is second only to Wisconsin for its farm output of fresh cranberries.  (djorenstein/Pixabay)
Among the states, Massachusetts is second only to Wisconsin for its farm output of fresh cranberries. (djorenstein/Pixabay)
November 8, 2019

PLYMOUTH, Mass. – If Thanksgiving cranberry sales don't pick up, it could be a tough year for Massachusetts growers of the bitter fruit – and they're laying much of the blame on the U.S. trade war with China.

Massachusetts' cranberry output is the second-highest in the country, and the Ocean Spray brand is based here.

Brian Wick, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, explains that the Bay State crop so far is down about 4% from 2018, though there was an ample supply last year. But Wick says the loss of the Chinese market has been substantial since the tariffs went into effect in July 2018.

"Based on the USDA numbers nationally, we have lost a little over $50 million so far, since the tariffs have gone into place,” says Wick. “So, that's a significant impact."

Last year, China bought close to $55 million worth of cranberry products, making it the largest importer of U.S. cranberries.

But U.S. export figures show in the first half of this year, cranberry sales to China were down about 45% compared to the first half of 2018, before the tariffs took effect. And the U.S. cranberry market makes about 30% of its money from exports, according to Wick.

While the volume of the cranberry crop is down a bit, Wick says growers are seeing higher-quality berries this year. He credits the weather, with more predictable summer and fall weather patterns in the area.

"We're just very happy with the color coming on so quickly,” says Wick. “Those nice, dark red berries that look great in your fresh fruit bags when you're making your decisions for your cranberries for the holidays."

But only about 5% of U.S. cranberries are sold fresh, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Since the crop decreased and the quality improved, Wick expects the prices to go up this season. He hopes that will help support the 300 or so cranberry growers in Massachusetts.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - MA