By Kathleen LaNatra
The cranberry industry is one of the true gems of our Massachusetts economy, and has been for over 200 years. The cranberry is our state’s leading agricultural product, and Massachusetts is home to more than 30% of the total cranberry-growing acreage in the entire United States. Much of that acreage is right here in our district. In good times, the crop value of cranberries has reached $100 million annually. Without question the cranberry industry is a significant business for us all.
Yet, it’s an industry facing very serious challenges. I have had the opportunity to get to know many of the cranberry farmers and industry leaders throughout the region and have learned firsthand of the struggles they face.
Several of their biggest challenges have included a significant price drop over the last decade, coupled with fallout from trade wars.
In 2008, a barrel of cranberries was worth about $58 a barrel. Ten years later, though, the price had dropped to $25. The Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association estimates the cost of producing one barrel of cranberries at approximately $35.
Industry leaders attribute the price drop to crop surpluses, along with a decline in demand for some of the industry’s most important products, including cranberry juice.
Then there are the recent trade wars. Over the last few years, for example, Chinese tariffs on dried cranberries increased from 15% to 40%.
The American cranberry industry had been working to open a Chinese market for cranberries, and had enjoyed some success. Between 2013 and 2018, American exports of cranberries had increased by 1,000%. But in the first half of 2019, after an increase in tariffs, sales were 45% lower than the previous year.
For this particular struggle, we hope to work closely with our federal legislators and the Biden Administration to improve the export market for our cranberry growers.
Closer to home, cranberry farmers continue to seek solutions to their challenges. Some have considered leasing portions of their bogs to solar companies; others contemplate dumping a significant part of their supply and turning it into fertilizer or compost. Some hope that in so doing the decrease in supply could lead to driving up the prices.
Certainly everyone will be better off if the industry can continue to produce robust quantities of cranberries and find a receptive market.
There has been some effort to address the challenges the industry faces. A few years ago, the Massachusetts Cranberry Revitalization Task Force identified strategies to support the state’s cranberry industry, including funds to renovate and upgrade local grower bogs, implementing additional conservation efforts, and considering incentives to preserve retired bogs as open and protected space.
It’s unlikely that any single solution will be the remedy for all the issues that the farmers and industry leaders face. But we all need to try. As consumers, we should be proud of this unique industry and we can support it at the grassroots level by buying their products. Legislatively, in my role as Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Export Development, it will be my priority to do everything I can to support our cranberry farmers and help them promote their product on a national and international stage.
The cranberry industry is an important part of our past, and present. I will do everything I can to assure that it remains that way in the future.