Southeastern Massachusetts is cranberry country, and the little red berries are the top commercial crop in the state. However, 2020 is proving to be a tough year for growers as drought conditions persist.

With that in mind, Gov. Charlie Baker this week declared October "Massachusetts Cranberry Month," and touted the administration's ongoing support for the industry.

Producers are adjusting to drier conditions, said Kathleen Theoharides, Baker's energy and environmental affairs secretary. In a media release, she said the industry has been incorporating the latest technology and equipment to harvest fruit in ways that conserve water and protect natural resources.

"The cranberry industry is a significant driver for the Massachusetts economy," Theoharides said. "The production of cranberries provides enormous environmental benefits to the Commonwealth, and our local growers are true stewards of the land."

In August, the administration announced support for $7.75 million in upgrades at the UMass Cranberry Station in Wareham, where crop research is conducted. And last year, nearly $1 million in state money was awarded to growers to renovate their decades-old bogs. Back in 2017, the Massachusetts Cranberry Revitalization Task Force released a comprehensive report (pdf) containing recommendations to preserve and strengthen the state's cranberry industry.

Among other things, the 2017 report notes that new demand for larger-sized fruit has sparked a need to renovate old-style cranberry bogs. Many Massachusetts bogs have been producing for over 120 years and have varieties that originally came from the wild. Those smaller varieties are not in demand for the production of dried, sweetened cranberry products. As such, bogs need to be retooled with newer, higher-yielding varieties in order to compete with other regions such as Quebec and Wisconsin.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Renovation also has environmental benefits. Many old bogs are out-of-grade and require large volumes of water to cover the beds for harvest or winter protection. New technology lets growers design efficient bogs that are laser-leveled, with modern irrigation and water management systems. The ongoing renovation of Massachusetts bogs has already resulted in the net conservation of 375 million gallons of water annually.

At the news of Baker's cranberry month declaration, local lawmakers weighed in with words of praise. "Cranberry growers are the backbone of the Southeast region's agricultural sector," said Senator Marc Pacheco. "With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I'm pleased we're taking this opportunity to celebrate the local cranberry farmers."

"Cranberries and cranberry growers have been and will continue to be an important part of our regional culture and economy here in Massachusetts, and I am proud of the state support local farms have received in recent years," said Rep. Bill Strauss (D-Mattapoisett), co-chair of the Cranberry Station Board of Oversight.

Massachusetts residents are being encouraged to purchase locally-produced cranberry products this holiday season.

"This is the pinnacle of the growing season," said Brian Wick, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Grower's Association. "The bogs are alive with activity while our growers are rewarded for their hard work with another growing season coming to fruition."

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