(Aug. 20) The fresh cranberry industry should garner profitable prices this year, but shippers are waiting to see what scenario the process market will create.

Decas Bros. Sales Co. Inc., Wareham, Mass., saw a price of about $50 per barrel last year, while processed berries brought $30 per barrel, said John Decas, president and chief executive officer.

“We’re hoping this year the trend will continue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask of the trade.”

He said he expects about the same prices for 2003.

Average pricing in the U.S. has provided about a $20 margin between fresh and processed for the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Prices for fresh and processed in 2000 and 2001 were about $40 and $20, respectively.

Decas said the difference in pricing is required to keep fresh growers in business.

The USDA has forecast the 2003 crop to bring 5.83 million barrels, which is an increase of about 3% from 2002, when 5.7 million barrels were shipped, according to NASS.

Most cranberry-producing states have had mild weather and good growing conditions.

Wisconsin is the only state that will decrease production, as winter damage and dry conditions will set maturity back one week, according to NASS.

Decas said his company’s crop has been plagued with cases of rot due to rain and humidity. Also, insects appeared in mid-August, reducing fruit quality.

Other shippers said there were no significant factors affecting quality this season.

Most shippers said harvests would start about Sept. 1. Shipments will begin in October, peaking a few weeks before Thanksgiving and ending at the start of 2004.

Decas said of the roughly 5½ million barrels shipped each year, about 250,000 are sold to the fresh market. Therefore, the amount of cranberries sold on the process market directly affects price for fresh.