May 4, 2012
Wisconsin cranberry growers celebrate 125 years

The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association (WSCGA) has had a lot to celebrate lately. This year, the organization is celebrating its 125th anniversary. To note the occasion, Feb. 8 was named “Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association Day” by the governor.

Wisconsin’s cranberry growers met a group on Feb. 8, 1887, in Tomah, to discuss the value of a state organization representing cranberry growers, according to WSGCA.

WSCGA has grown from its original 20 members to represent about 250 growers in the state, many of whom are fourth- and fifth-generation growers, according to the association.

Tom Lochner, executive director of WSCGA, said cranberry growers throughout the state have been working for years to implement farming techniques that optimize cranberry production while reducing environmental impact. Across the industry, growers are developing new, more efficient technologies, implementing conservation strategies on marshes such as alternative energy production and working with research leaders to produce the best berry possible.

It must be paying off. USDA reported Wisconsin produced 4.4 million barrels of cranberries in 2011. That’s an increase of 11 percent over 2010. The 2011 season got off to a late start because of bad weather, but a mid-season heat wave helped production recover, according to USDA. Some producers said their berries were smaller last year, but their overall output was good to average.

Cranberry growing in Wisconsin has changed significantly in the past 125 years. Early cranberry growers harvested their crop by hand and often placed ads in local newspapers looking for pickers to hire. The cranberry rake was invented in 1871 and was believed to do the work of 20 pickers. By the early 1900s, Wisconsin ranked third in the production of cranberries, behind Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Wisconsin now ranks first in U.S. cranberry production, and has held that spot for the past 17 years. Today, cranberries are grown on approximately 21,000 acres in central and northern Wisconsin, making it the state’s largest fruit crop. According to a University of Wisconsin report, the state cranberry industry has an annual economic impact of $300 million and supports 3,400 jobs.

WSCGA plans to convey the economic importance of cranberries to Wisconsin and share the story of a solid, sustainable industry this year, Lochner said. They are also planning special giveaways and a large celebration at their annual summer meeting.

For more information, visit www.wiscran.org.

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor





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