(Oct. 8) The fresh cranberry crop in Massachusetts is down with the potential to be way off its original estimate, leaving it up to Wisconsin to fill the void.

The Massachusetts fresh cranberry crop doesn’t appear to be quite the crop that was anticipated originally, said Chris Phillips, spokesman for Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., Middleboro, Mass. But it’s offset by a stronger fresh crop in Wisconsin.

In fact, this is the worst crop Massachusetts has had, said Nick Decas, vice president of sales for Decas Bros. Sales Co. Inc., Wareham, Mass. He said there wasn’t much there for the early varieties.

The original estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted Massachusetts would produce 1.7 million barrels of cranberries this season. Decas said they’ll be lucky if they make 1 million.

“It promises to be a disaster,” he said.

Juice drives the cranberry industry as 95% of the crop goes to processing, leaving only 5% for fresh.

It’s still too early to predict what actual volume will be, but if the crop continues to come in as it has, volume will be considerably lower than both last year’s 1.45 million barrels and the USDA’s estimate.

This year the growing season itself was not good because of a lot of rain, said David Farrimond, general manager of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, Mass. The pendulum swung the other way as last year Massachusetts had a drought.

Insect infestation also was more aggressive this year because of the rain. Bugs ate into the berries and leaves, decreasing the amount of fresh fruit available. Farrimond said growers have cut back on maintenance the past few years because prices were low.

Decas agreed and said that low returns have resulted in people putting less money into their property.

But overall, the crop in Massachusetts will be 10% to 15% lower than the original prediction, Farrimond said.

ACROSS THE NATION

Things have slowed down in Wisconsin, because the berries haven’t gotten the color growers need, said Tom Lockner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, Wisconsin Rapids. The state is projected to produce 3.51 million barrels this season.

Oregon is looking to have high prices and big berries due to a milder growing season.

“Cranberries are going to be beautiful this year,” said Ron Puhl, owner of Cape Blanco Cranberries Inc. in Port Orford, Ore. “Color will be superb.”

Oregon weather brought warm temperatures early in the season, but now the state could use some rain, Puhl said.

The harvest in Oregon is started at the beginning of October, but the water shortage has held back the harvest a little, Puhl said. Plus, there hasn’t been the urgency to harvest this year like in past years. The sugar content increases and color becomes deeper when the berries are left on the vine longer, which increases the value of the crop.

PRICES

Prices are increasing, which indicates the supply may be short, Farrimond said. He also said there’s been a lot more international interest in fresh fruit in the UK and Europe, therefore, there’s been an increase in the amount of fresh fruit going over seas.

Last year in early October, 24 12-ounce cartons of cranberries were being sold for $20-22 on the Boston Wholesale Market, according to the USDA.

So far this year, cases have been sold for $22.

In Wisconsin, cranberries were $25-30 per barrel in early October. In 1997-98 the price was as high as $65 per barrel, while in 2001-02 the price was $8 per barrel, Lockner said. The cost of production is $30-35 per barrel.