(Aug. 21) U.S. cranberry production will increase this season, thanks largely to the removal of marketing restrictions enacted the past two seasons.

Shippers say they’re unsure what effect the removal of those restrictions — which allowed growers to sell only 65% of their historic average sales to processors — could have on fresh-market supplies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s August estimate calls for 5.72 million 100-pound barrels of cranberries this season, compared to 5.33 million in 2001 and 5.71 million in 2000.

Historically, fresh shipments have been about 4% to 7% of total volumes, said David Farrimond, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, Mass.

With the restrictions in place the past two seasons, some growers chose not to produce cranberry crops by flooding out their bogs, he said. Also, because of poor processing markets, some growers have cut down on maintenance.

The same poor markets for processing — which went from a high $80 a barrel to $20 after skyrocketing production — also influenced some shippers to send more volumes to fresh market, he said.

For the 2001 season, fresh prices were about $42 per barrel, compared to $17 for processing, Farrimond said.

Now, with unlimited volumes allowed for the processed market, supplies could get tighter for fresh shipments, said Nick Decas, vice president in charge of sales for Decas Bros. Sales Co. Inc., Wareham. Then again, with higher overall production this season, there also could be a slight increase in fresh-market supplies, he said.

“It’ll probably be an insignificant change one way or the other,” Decas said.

Volumes for fresh markets also will depend on weather between now and harvest, which generally begins in mid-September.

Sizing of the berries will play a role, Decas said. Drought has hit parts of the East Coast, he said, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires fresh-market cranberries to meet size requirements.

Fresh supplies also will depend on the keeping quality of the cranberries, said Richard O’Brien, director of sales for Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., Middleboro, Mass.

Indications so far, he said, are that Ocean Spray’s fruit should have good keeping quality, thanks to the dry summer. Sizing could be down, though, he said.

All the same, O’Brien noted that the majority of the crop wouldn’t be harvested until late September.

There was no reason to believe keeping quality would be bad, “but obviously Mother Nature delivers what she delivers.”

Shippers declined to speculate on early markets this season.

Decas Bros. harvests from mid-September until the first week or so of November, shipping through Christmas, Decas said. The majority of the berries go to the Thanksgiving market, he said.

Of the overall 5.72 million barrels of cranberries forecast by the USDA, 1.78 million are expected to come from Massachusetts. Roughly 2.9 million barrels were forecast for Wisconsin.

Decas said the USDA estimate was “pretty much on target.” Farrimond said marketing committee’s February estimate called for 5.6 million barrels. The USDA’s numbers seemed to be in line with what he’d heard across the U.S.

The marketing committee was scheduled to meet Aug. 26 to forecast this season’s crop, he said.