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US: Forecast points to smaller cranberry harvest in Massachusetts

On the brink of the harvest season and amid concerns about the ongoing drought, Massachusetts cranberry growers have been told to expect a 5 percent dip compared to last year's crop.

In late summer, sufficient water is "critical to ample fruit sizing," according to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, which said the sustained drought is growers' "greatest concern."

"Growing berries need rain in order to develop in size," the association said Wednesday. "Although bogs are built with in-ground irrigation systems, they are generally not sufficient substitution for natural rainfall, which yields uniform sizing of the fruit."

Bogs are flooded during harvests, as berries are shaken and then scooped off the water's surface, and growers use their irrigation systems to protect their crops from frost.

A drought that has reached extreme levels in 16.8 percent of the state threatens all of those water-intensive processes as farmers' irrigation ponds run low.

Brian Wick, executive director of the association, said less than 5 percent of the cranberry crop in Massachusetts is dry-harvested, and it is "possible" there will be more of that this year, though farmers lack the equipment to harvest cranberries without flooding their bogs.

"They're usually set up for one or the other," Wick told the News Service.

Globally, last year's crop hit 1.18 billion pounds, according to Ocean Spray, a Lakeville-Middleborough-based company whose grower-owners were responsible for more than half that amount.

The estimate of a 5 percent downturn was made recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistical Services at the Cape Cod association's 129th annual gathering, according to the association, which announced the numbers Wednesday.

Kellyanne Dignan, a spokeswoman for Ocean Spray, has a more optimistic outlook on the Massachusetts crop for now, though she expects more data next week that could alter the forecast. Dignan said she expects Massachusetts to repeat its record crop year of last year.

"The water for harvest, we still have some time on," said Dignan, who said globally growers are expecting a "large crop."

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