Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association says growers are positioned well to start 2023. This is despite a less-than-desirable 2022 crop and persistent economic challenges.
Lochner notes that while the 2022 crop was a “disappointment,” it’s trending in the right direction. He adds prices are moving favorable as well.
“I think overall they’re ready to go, but they’re dealing with all the issues that everybody else is: high fertilizer prices, high fuel costs, shortage of labor and difficulty finding work,” he says. “So all of those challenges are out there. But we face challenges every year.”
Cranberries may be small, but they pack a punch in the state’s agricultural economy. The berry is Wisconsin’s largest fruit crop, and growers are supplying 65 percent of the nation’s crop. It has about a $1 billion a year impact on the economy, providing jobs for thousands of residents. Lochner adds that while that money may be concentrated to certain growing areas, the impact reaches the urban areas of the state as well. Kenosha, for example, is home to a major cranberry processing plant.
That’s why the Cranberry Research Station and the industry is working on better varieties, pest resistance and frost protection, and the Wisconsin Cranberry Board is monitoring export barriers and tariffs.
Lochner says tariffs are making U.S. cranberries and cranberry products more expensive to buy in the EU or China as compared with a fruit that comes out of Canada. This puts Wisconsin cranberries at a disadvantage in the export market. The association is working to try to lower or suspend those tariffs.
“We’ve had some success, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of diligence to do that,” he says. “There’s other non tariff barriers to trade in terms of harmonizing MRLs or Maximum Residue Levels on fruit.”
Lochner explains that growers have to adopt the practices they would if they were in the EU, which is much more restrictive than the U.S. And every country is different on their Maximum Residue Levels.
“Trying to track those is a very difficult, complicated, and big job for our marketing committee that does that,” he says. “And I think those are the types of things that we’re working on to grow those markets so we can continue to grow fruit and make some money at it.”