All is not well in cranberry country this harvesting season, the 200th anniversary of the world's first known commercial cultivation, the AP reports. In the birthplace of the industry, many Massachusetts growers whose families have tended bogs for generations are in dire straits, facing challenges that include rising production costs, decreasing crop values, changing consumer habits, and increasing competition from other states and Canada, a recent task force report found. In addition, one of the region's worst droughts in decades threatens to leave farms without enough water to flood bogs for harvest. Revolutionary War veteran Henry Hall is credited with starting commercial cranberry production on Cape Cod in 1816. The fruit remains Massachusetts' top food crop, supporting thousands of jobs and generating $1.4 billion in economic activity.
But Wisconsin has surpassed the state as the biggest producer and while cranberry sales remain strong, supply is exceeding demand. "You see demand of about 8 or 9 million barrels, and this year I think our industry is projected to produce 13 million barrels," said Matt Beaton, an Ivy League-educated, fifth-generation cranberry grower. "The handwriting is on the wall. You don't have to be a math major to see what's going on." Beaton says his business is now being driven by new, larger varieties developed through cross-breeding. They are better suited for dried cranberry products like Craisins, which are gaining market share. Brian Wick, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, calls it a "catch-22"—farmers need to renovate their aging bogs to stay competitive, but lack the money to do so. "It's a thought every day whether I should exit or not," says grower Steve Ward. "But my gut feeling is that if you take a bog out of production, it's never coming back. I want to keep that bog for the next generation." (Read more cranberries stories.)