USDA buys up more surplus cranberries

Workers drag cranberries in from a bog during a harvest Sept. 23, 2015, on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend $27.5 million to soak up surplus cranberries and support prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend $27.5 million on cranberry concentrate, buying a fraction of the surplus berries that are suppressing prices.

The purchase of the value-added product will soak up 30 million pounds, or 300,000 barrels, of cranberries, according to the industry’s Cranberry Marketing Committee, which announced the purchase in a press release June 29.

“We’re pleased to hear that. Certainly when you have an inventory of 7 million barrels, it’s nice to have some help getting rid of that,” Washington cranberry grower Malcolm McPhail said July 1.

Total U.S. production in 2015 was about 8.4 million barrels, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The cranberry surplus has hovered around 90 percent in recent years, swelled partly by a bumper crop of nearly 9 million barrels in 2013. Farmers have seen prices fall every year since 2009.

The average price growers received in 2014 was $30.90 per 100-pound barrel. The USDA is due to issue a report Wednesday on the 2015 crop.

“Any sale of cranberries helps our growers,” Ocean Spray cooperative spokeswoman Kellyanne Dignan said. “From our perspective, we appreciate the USDA’s attention to the cranberry industry.”

The USDA purchases surplus food to stabilize prices under a program created during the Depression. The government distributes the food to schools, summer camps and charities.

The USDA has been a regular customer for cranberry farmers. The purchases included buying 680,000 barrels for $55 million around Thanksgiving 2014. A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers from the five cranberry-producing states lobbied for the purchase.

“We are grateful for the continued support of the USDA and appreciate the positive impact that this bonus buy has on our industry,” the marketing committee’s executive director, Michelle Hogan, said in a written statement.

A Massachusetts task force in mid-June made several recommendations to help that state’s cranberry growers.

The recommendations included providing grants, tax credits and low-interest loans to farmers to renovate bogs and increase yields.

Other recommendations called for programs to pay farmers to convert bogs to wetlands to reduce production.

Cranberries are the top farm crop in Massachusetts, the country’s second-leading cranberry producer.

Washington, the fifth-leading cranberry state after number-three New Jersey and number-four Oregon, has 1,700 acres planted in cranberries. “I think everybody is hanging in there,” McPhail said.

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