By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Revised March 2012.
The United States produced 681 million pounds of cranberries in 2011, valued at $465 million. More than half of the nation’s cranberries are produced in Wisconsin followed by Massachusetts.
The cranberry, one of three fruits native to North America, is commercially grown in the United States. Cranberries are regarded as nutritious with several health benefits including being an excellent source of antioxidants. U.S. per person consumption of cranberries is 2.27 pounds, almost entirely in the form of juice.
Cranberries, once traditionally consumed seasonally with holiday turkeys, are now consumed year round in processed forms. About 95 percent of cranberries consumed in the United States are processed, most commonly for juice and juice blends.
Cranberries are used in canned and bottled 100 percent juices and juice blends. Fruit juices and drinks rank third in beverage retail market share behind carbonated soft drinks and milk. Cranberry handlers also market the berries in other forms including frozen, sweetened dried, concentrated and powdered.
A handful of companies purchase cranberries directly from growers. Massachusetts-based Ocean Spray accounts for about 80 percent of raw cranberry in-take. This cooperative is North America’s leading producer of canned and bottled juices and juice drinks with a market share of 65 percent. In fiscal 2010, the company had sales of $2.05 billion. Other handlers include Northland Cranberries, Inc., Wisconsin; Decas Cranberry Products, Massachusetts; Clement Pappas & Company, Inc., New Jersey; and Cliffstar Corporation, New York.
The cranberry plant has a perennial habit that produces a low-growing, woody vine. Stems or runners grow from one to six feet long. The leaves are dark green through the growing season and turn reddish brown when the plants go dormant.
The runners form short vertical upright branches called uprights that have a non-trailing growth habit. Most of the fruit results from flowers that grow on the uprights. Some berries originate from flowers on the runner ends. Initiation of the flower bud takes place 16 months prior to fruit harvest, beginning in July. The flower buds become dormant during winter months, at which time, the plants are protected with a winter flood.
Man-made wetlands or bogs are used for most of the U.S. cranberry production. The dry land beds surrounded by man-made dikes are layered with sand and organic matter.
Cranberries require an acid soil with a pH between 4.0 and 5.5. During the growing season, March through October, cranberry bogs are managed with drained soil. Irrigation may be required during fruit set through harvest. Sprinkler systems may be installed under the surface of the bogs or placed on the surface and removed before each harvest. Flooding is used for winter protection, harvest and pest control. Because of the essential need for water during cranberry cultivation, many growers have water reservoirs adjacent to the bogs.
Cranberries are harvested from mid-September through October. Cranberries for the fresh market are harvested mechanically without flooding. In Wisconsin, the bogs are flooded a few inches to cushion the fruit. Cranberries destined for processing are harvested by flooding the bogs with eight to 10 inches of water. A machine with a beater is driven through the bogs to remove the berries from the vines. The cranberries float to the surface and are corralled and conveyed to a truck. Following harvest, growers typically flood the bogs during winter when the vines are dormant. This protects the cranberry vines from frost. Sand is added every few years to rejuvenate the planting. A layer of sand, one-half to one inch in depth, is spread on the ice. As the ice melts, the sand settles over the vines to help keep the fruiting buds closer to the root area. When establishing new plantings, sanding may be required for two or three straight years.
During harvest, a portion of the fresh market berries is exported to Canada for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday held in early October. Fresh market cranberries are stored following harvest until it is time to package and ship berries out for the U.S. holiday market. Most cranberry growers sell their production on contract. Most cranberries are sold for processing. Only about 5 percent of the total cranberry crop is sold for fresh fruit.
Cranberries Limited (formerly Northland Cranberries) of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, is the world’s largest cranberry grower with 17 bogs in Wisconsin. Until recently, it was a publicly traded company with 2004 sales of $74 million. It has since privatized, and in 2005, sold off its juice operation. It supplies cranberry concentrate to Apple & Eve and Ocean Spray.
Domestically, the cranberry industry is dominated by a handful of grower/processors. Ocean Spray, one of the oldest grower-owned cooperative in the United States, represents about 600 cranberry growers in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington as well as in British Columbia and other parts of Canada.
The Cranberry Marketing Committee and the Federal Cranberry Marketing Order were established in 1962 to regulate cranberry production in the ten states cranberries are commercially grown. The committee has the authority to allot production quotas to approximately 1,200 producers who sell to 18 handlers and/or processors.
Export and Import
The United States exported 9,230 metric tons (MT) of fresh cranberries in 2011, valued at about $19 million. Canada is the top buyer of U.S. cranberries. The United States is a net importer of cranberries and imported 35,276 MT of fresh cranberries in 2011 valued at nearly $50 million. In addition, 9,867 MT of frozen cranberries were imported valued at $14 million. Canada and Chile were the top two suppliers of U.S. cranberry imports.
Cranberries: Not Just for the Holidays Anymore, Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2001.
Cranberry Giants Ocean Spray, Decas Bogged down in Dispute, MassLive.com, 2010.
Cranberry Production in Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin.
Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, ERS, USDA.
Fruits and Tree Nuts, Briefing Room, ERS, USDA.
Global Agricultural Trade System, Foreign Ag Service, USDA.
How Cranberries Grow, University of Massachusetts Cranberry Station.
Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts, National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA.
Ocean Spray Cranberries at the Crossroads, Ag Marketing Resource Center, Kansas State University, 2003.