Friday, August 4, 2000
U.S. order to cut cranberry production falls heavily on bog farmer
An oversupply of cranberries combined with a drop in demand has led the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to order growers nationwide to cut this fall's crop by 15 percent. The hope is that this action will halt the downward spiral that has more than halved the prices farmers receive for a barrel of fruit from close to $60 in 1995 to a little over $20 today.
Carlisle Cranberries president Mark Duffy sees his options as severely limited. Where big growers can flood a portion of their bogs or just not pick part of the crop to reduce both cost and output, with only two bogs, he can do neither. At harvest time he will be forced to bring in the full crop, market his quota and throw away the overage. The one bright spot in a dismal picture is the fact that fresh fruit has been exempted, but Duffy's sales of fresh berries account for only about ten percent of his revenue.
Commenting on the fact that the marketing order clearly falls more heavily on the small grower than on the giants, Ocean Spray and Northland, Duffy says that issue was considered by the government. In the end though, the USDA felt that it needed to issue a blanket order to head off a variety of dodges, such as splitting up large bogs among family members to avoid the caps.
A double-edged sword
For Carlisle Cranberries, the order could prove to be a double-edged sword. The USDA is setting each farmer's quota at 85 percent of his historic yield as recorded in department files. Since Duffy is in the process of renovating portions of the Carlisle Bog, and one new field went into production last year and a second this spring, he is faced with uncertainties both now and in the future.
Under the Carlisle Cranberries' lease agreement negotiated with the town in 1995, the entire 40-acre bog is slated to be modernized and brought up to full production over the 20 years of the lease. Thus, the potential long-term implications could be extremely serious.
According to Duffy, hopes for a brighter future for the industry as a whole rest with a substantial increase on the demand side. Ocean Spray, which accounts for 70 percent of the world crop, is undertaking an unprecedented marketing push that aims, in large part, to hike overseas sales. The government is urging grower organizations to fund "generic" promotions, like those used by the dairy industry, to boost overall consumption of berries. Locally, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth is also researching a number of promotional possibilities.
Challenge on the milk front
Almost simultaneously with the USDA cranberry order, Duffy, who leases the dairy operation at Great Brook State Park, appeared on Beacon Hill to oppose a move by the state legislature to abrogate an agreement among states in the northeast to maintain a floor under milk prices. Part of Duffy's appeal was featured on local TV news broadcasts three weeks ago. Faced with the possibility of a double whammy, the farmer was happy to inform the Mosquito that the dairymen's efforts had paid off, and the proposed change in pricing mechanisms was not included in the state budget sent to the governor.
When asked whether all the challenges thrown in the path of the family farmer by the market, politics and, of course, the weather, ever became overwhelming, Duffy replied, "Not yet. After all, what I'm trying to do is help keep agriculture in Massachusetts."
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito