Cranberries: they are good for you and grown in Michigan

Cranberries are a unique fruit with special requirements of sandy or peaty soil, abundant fresh water and a winter dormancy period.

The American cranberry is native to Michigan and grows on low-lying trailing vines in beds, more commonly known as bogs or marshes. There is a common misconception that cranberries grow in standing water when in fact; they grow in highly prepared, well -drained fields. Growers flood the beds with water when it is time to harvest which allows the hollow cranberries to float so they can be efficiently corralled. Water is also used in the winter to protect the vines from freezing and desiccation.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture the 2011 forecast for cranberry production in the U.S. is 750 million pounds. Michigan’s neighbor, Wisconsin, is expected to maintain its lead the nation by producing 430 million pounds, nearly 60% of the U.S. crop. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington are also expected to have great harvests, ranging from 17 million in Washington to 210 million in Massachusetts.

Growers in Wisconsin say that this is one of the best years, even though the crop was delayed because of a late spring. Timely rains and a warm September played a role in this year’s increased harvest. This is good news as the state has an incredible 18,000 acres dedicated to cranberries and sales of this tart fruit contribute nearly $300 million to the Wisconsin economy.

What about Michigan? The state’s climate, soil, water availability and processing infrastructure make Michigan well suited to produce cranberries. Cranberries need soil with a low pH (acidic); both organic (peaty) or sandy soils will do. There are approximately 260-300 acres currently in production in the state. There are half a dozen cranberry operations and the largest, the Michigan Cranberry Company with marshes in Cheboygan county, has 220 of those acres and produces nearly 3 million pounds of berries a year. Other producers are located along the southwest Michigan blueberry corridor.

Cranberries are harvested in September and October. Most are cleaned and frozen to be used for juice production. Some are marketed as fresh fruit. These need to be cleaned and sorted to remove damaged and poorly colored berries. Some berries are now frozen whole in poly bags and marketed directly to consumers. The majority of Michigan cranberries are sold directly to processors and wholesale packers. Since the mid-90’s, consumption of this anti-oxidant rich fruit has steadily increased and according to Wally Huggett of the Michigan Cranberry Company, exports have skyrocketed from 5% to 30%.

While Michigan is not a leader in the production of cranberries, the state does have greater potential. To learn more about cranberries, visit the following sites:                               

To see cranberries being harvested in northern Michigan, visit:

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