DORCHESTER, N.B. – The hot, dry summer this year that helped boost cranberry yields in Southeastern New Brunswick gave way to a cold, wet fall, creating challenges to get them all harvested.
Mel Goodland, with his wife, Georgina, and son, Matthew, owns and operates Coastal Cranberries in Dorchester. They just finished harvesting their crop earlier this month.
“We had two really good days last week and that allowed us to get a lot out of the field, but the weather’s been crazy… we were almost a month behind other years in getting it all done,” Goodland said.
He noted extreme cold temperatures make it precarious to get harvesting equipment into the fields.
“We had to wait until the temperature got up above zero so when we get out with the machines, it doesn’t snap the vines, because when they’ve been frozen, they’re brittle,” he said.
The only cranberry growers in the southeastern corner of New Brunswick, the Goodlands are just one of about 20 growing operations across the province and have been harvesting cranberries since 2005. For the first three years Goodland wet-harvested his cranberries but then changed to the more labour-intense dry harvest, using several walk-behind machines.
“We found that the dry, fresh fruit had more value than the wet fruit,” he said. He went on to explain wet fruit is sold to processors for use in juices, sauces and other prepared foods, while the dry fruit is either dried, or sold fresh off the vine.
At times throughout the year Goodland also employs several local people who help harvest and prepare the berries for packaging. For the past few years their berries have been sold as fresh fruit under the Sun Valley Foods brand, located in Aylesford, N.S. The Goodlands also sell their fresh and “sweet and dried” cranberries at local farmers’ markets under their own Coastal Cranberries brand.
“They’re really popular; we sell them at the farmers’ markets in Amherst and Moncton and someone takes them to the Sackville farmers’ market for us every Saturday,” he noted.
And while many food growers took a big hit earlier this year when widespread heavy frost killed large tracts of early-growing plants, Coastal Cranberries was able to avoid that catastrophe. In addition to an irrigation system, a few years ago a crop monitoring system was installed, both of which have proven valuable.
“These systems have saved us a lot of work and heartache, that’s for sure. When the temperature goes down, the electronic monitors call us and the irrigation system will kick in to spray the vines with water, protecting them from frost damage. It sure beats having to check the beds in the middle of the night,” Goodland said.
He noted that despite the cold weather of late, his crops have experienced little to no damage. Buyers prefer the berries stay in the field as long as possible, he explained, to provide fresh berries for the Christmas season as well as the American Thanksgiving.
“The weather this year has been ridiculous. Nobody in the industry has ever seen such terrible conditions. The cranberries are so red right now that they’re almost purple, although they’re still fresh and good. But the intermittent rains and cold weather have just made the harvest so long and drawn out. We’re glad it’s done,” he said.
So while the lack of rain during the summer months may have helped produce a good crop yield this year, the frequent rains and cold weather over the past months or so definitely played havoc with the harvest.
Goodland said he enjoys growing his cranberries, but admitted the biggest challenge for all cranberry growers over the past decade has been the fluctuating price in the marketplace.
“The price went way down to below cost of production for several years… and as a result we have lost some cranberry farms. They claim there’s been an over-supply, but there wasn’t. The over-supply was actually in the juice concentrate and there was not enough whole berries to make the sweet and dried berries and sauces,” he said.
But with the winter snows just around the corner, Goodland said he’s pleased to see this year’s harvest come to a successful end.
“For a while there, we didn’t think we’d ever get the cranberries out of the field. We’re very glad it’s finally done.”