The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cranberries scarce in Carlisle this fall

People who frequently walk the cranberry bog may have noticed something missing this year. September and October usually bring the bright red color of ripening cranberries on the low-lying bog plants. This year, however, even a novice can see that the berry crop is unusually small. Cranberry farmer Mark Duffy estimates that this year’s crop will be only about 8% of the usual yield.

Although cranberries are native to this area and tend to thrive in bogs such as the one on Curve Street, commercial farming of cranberries is not without its challenges. One of the major difficulties in maintaining a high crop yield is complete pollination of the cranberry flowers. Changes in local bee populations due to mites and disease can affect the fruit set. Another challenge is the possibility of frost damage to the young berries. Cranberry growers must have an extensive irrigation system to flood the fields for plant protection and to spray the vines to prevent crop damage from a late frost.

Last winter’s weather blamed

According to Duffy, this year’s winter weather was the culprit in reducing the crop yield. “Once we drained the water in the spring, we knew we would have a tough year.” Duffy stated. A consultant, who also advises Duffy on integrated pest management at the bog, believes that the long-lasting heavy snow cover kept the plants in dark conditions under the ice. “After an ice layer forms over the [flooded] plants, we remove some of the water,” Duffy explained. “This year there seems to have been an oxygen deficiency under the ice. The plants themselves look great. There’s just no berries on them.”

In better crop years, a preliminary harvest is done before the bog is flooded. These “dry harvest” berries are sold locally. After the dry harvest, the bog is flooded and that portion of the crop is sold to the Clement Pappas company for use in cranberry products. This year the yield is so low that no dry harvest will be done. Duffy expected the harvest to have been completed by October 20 or 21.

Hay, corn best ever

Because the cranberry plants seem healthy, Duffy says that, despite this year’s disappointing crop, he is hopeful about next year’s. According to Duffy, “Crops have their ups and downs. This year the cranberry crop was down, but because it rained so much, I had my best corn and hay crops ever.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito