DORCHESTER, N.B. – It’s been a productive and ‘fruitful’ year for Dorchester cranberry farmer Mel Goodland.
Goodland, manager of Coastal Cranberries Ltd., said while many cranberry growers in the Maritimes have been faced with lower-than-usual yields this season, his bogs are overflowing with the lush, red berries.
“On our farm here, this is the best crop we’ve ever had,” said Goodland.
Weather conditions this summer played a factor in this year’s bountiful crop, with enough rain early on in the season to keep water levels higher here in southeast New Brunswick than in other parts of the Maritimes.
“We fared better than most others,” he said, noting that the dry weather this summer had a significant impact on many other cranberry operations.
Although Goodland said the farm’s sprinkler system was used more often this summer than in other seasons to combat the lack of rain later on in the season, there was never any worry of running out of water.
Along with the favourable weather conditions, Goodland said the farm didn’t face challenges with insects either this year and he believes that may have been a result of fertilizing and spraying at the right time.
“The circumstances just all kind of worked in our favour this year,” he said.
As a result, “it’s been our best harvest ever,” with his crews bringing in an average of more than 20,000 pounds per acre.
The berries are both dry picked and wet harvested at Coastal Cranberries, a 9.5-acre farm located on Station Street in Dorchester.
Dry picking for the fresh fruit market is the preferred method of harvest, said Goodland, where a mechanical picker is used to comb the berries off the vine. The berries are conveyed into a burlap bag at the back of the machine. Once the bag is full, the operator stops the machine, removes the bag and sets it on the bog (where it will later be placed into larger containers), places an empty bag onto the machine and continues harvesting. The fresh cranberries sold in the produce section of your grocery stores are harvested primarily by the dry method.
Goodland said his crews, which were working to complete dry harvesting last week, were hoping to get as many berries picked last week as they could before turning it over to wet harvesting. This would depend on the weather, he said, as frost can jeopardize crops (although his irrigation system can keep the frost at bay as long as temperatures don’t dip too low).
“This year, if we can get all this harvested, we’ll be doing well.”
The berries currently being picked are the late variety of cranberries while harvesting for the early variety began more than a month-and-a-half ago. Coastal Cranberries, which has a number of harvesting machines, also specializes in dry picking for other farms.
For wet harvesting, the bogs are flooded to allow the berries to float to the top. They are then corralled into one large area and moved onto a conveyor belt, where they are poured into a truck. These berries will be used for frozen products.
Goodland said he is optimistic this year that the cranberry industry in New Brunswick is starting to see a turnaround. After several years of bottomed-out prices, and a glut of berries on the market, this year the price of berries has seen a bit of a resurgence.
“Crops are down so we’re getting a better price,” he said.
Having gone to a low of 10 cents per pound, the price has now jumped back up to about the 30-cent range, said Goodland, which is an improvement but still barely covering the cost of production, which ranges from 30 to 40 cents.
He said with prices at an all-time low over the past seven to eight years, many operations have been forced to fold because they were not making enough to justify keeping it going.
“Some farms are just not making it.”
Coastal Cranberries is a small family operation and fortunately, after 17 years in business, has been able to make it through these tough times, said Goodland.
“You just keep going and pray for the best.”