MADISON, Wisconsin — The U.S. is the number one producer in the world when it comes to cranberries, but the industry production has been going down the last couple years due to climate change.
Scientists are now working around the clock to make production more sustainable.
“We harvest her in Wisconsin about 21,500 of cranberries, and that will produce 550 million pounds of fruit,” said Tom Lochner at the Wisconsin Cranberry Research Station. “This year, we’re down 450 pounds due to weather issues.”
According to the USDA, Wisconsin is the largest producer of cranberries, with over half of the U.S. production in 2020.
At the Wisconsin Cranberry Research Station, production of cranberries have been low the past couple years.
“Warm spells during the middle of the winter might melt some of the snow and expose the plant tissue to low temperatures and wind followed by really cold temperatures has resulted in yield lost,” Lochner said. “That’s something we’ve seen and something we expect to see more and more.”
The research station has been conducting experiments on cranberries to make them more sustainable for production, according to Lochner.
“There’s a lot of potential to untap the genetics in the cranberry vine itself to take a look at things as frost tolerance disease resistance insects resistance to make the plant more sustainable,” Lochner said. “Our growers have been growing cranberries since the 1800s, and they’re committed to being environmentally and economically sustainable to pass it onto the next generation.”
According to Hilary Sandler at the University of Massachusetts, climate change is a driving factor for lack of production.
“This year, during July, we had a lot of warm temperatures, a lot of rainfall, and that creates the perfect conditions for fungi to thrive,” Sandler said. “And those are the ones who cause fruit rot, for the most part.”
Which is why Amaya Atucham, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, is conducting experiments on cranberry plants to see how to make them more adaptable to cold weather.
“If we can identify individuals that have higher tolerance to cold, we can make crosses with other individuals and make new cultivates that we can provide to growers.” Atucham said. “We don’t do any GMOs; we just try to find in diversity. That’s why it’s important to protect the diversity of these plants. We can find individuals that might have the strength of cold hardiness and then we can cross them to create new ones.”
When it comes to environmental problems, it can trickle into economic problems. Less production equals less economic gains for farmers.
That is why the research station is working around the clock to improve cranberry farming and make it more sustainable for the economy.
“Having that partnership and working together to identify what are the problems that the industry has,” Atucham said. “How to be more sustainable environmentally, but economically, as well. How can we do that research to help the industry move forward is key to the success of the challenges we have in the future. This is only going to get harder, so the solution to that is working together and doing research to find answers.”