For a variety of reasons, the supply of both organic and conventional cranberries is down 20 to 30 percent this year, which means all the fresh supplies will run out shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We are packing right now. We won’t have supplies after Thanksgiving,” said John Stauner, Owner of James Lake Farms, a certified organic cranberry marsh in northern Wisconsin.
John Stauner, Owner, James Lake Farms
With close to 200 acres of organic cranberries, Stauner’s operation is one of the larger producers of the fall holiday-centric item. According to Bob Wilson, who sells Stauner’s organic cranberries through his Wisconsin Rapids-based Cranberry Partners LLC entity, organic cranberries have less than a 10 percent share of the North American cranberry market. A higher percentage of organic cranberries go fresh, Wilson said, as the processor market drives cranberry sales, and like with other commodities, organics have a more limited market when they are sold as an ingredient.
“We are packing right now. We won’t have supplies after Thanksgiving.” – John Stauner
Ninety-seven percent of all cranberries are sold in the processor market. The remaining 3 percent are usually sold fresh in produce departments around Thanksgiving and Christmas. But fresh cranberries won't be available around the latter holiday this year, according to Wilson.
“If you want cranberries for Christmas, buy a couple of packs during Thanksgiving and throw them in the freezer,” he said.
Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association revealed that his state is the number one producer of cranberries in North America, followed by the province of Quebec in Canada, and then Massachusetts in third place. There is also production in other locations, including the Pacific Northwest and New Jersey. “We’re down about 1 million barrels (100 pounds per barrel),” Lochner said of Wisconsin’s production.
Tom Lochner, Executive Director, Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association
Some estimators put this year’s crop below 5 million barrels, which would make it 10-15 percent below the five-year average of 5.5 million barrels. A less-than-stellar fruit set exacerbated by suboptimal growing conditions created the smaller Wisconsin crop, which is representative of growing conditions in most production areas.
All cranberries are harvested in the fall, with fresh cranberries typically being sold from storage and processed cranberries sold from the freezer throughout the year.
Lochner said the drop in supplies this season was not a bad thing as prices have been depressed over the last several years. Wilson concurred, noting that inventories going into this year were low, so his expectation is that as the season wears on, inventories on the processor side will be depleted, leading to a much better pricing structure moving forward. He did add, however, that some suppliers are part of the problem, often selling cranberries below what the market will bear.
Talking about the processor market of fresh cranberries—both organic and conventional—Wilson said they are typically sold on contract well before harvesting begins. Any grower with spot market supplies, especially in December, should be able to do quite well price wise this season, he said.
Lochner said the drop in supplies this season was not a bad thing as prices have been depressed over the last several years.
As for organic cranberries, Wilson said producers in Quebec have been leading that charge, but supplies got ahead of demand, and some producers transitioned back to conventional this year, with Quebec’s organic supplies dropping by about one-third for organic cranberries sold in the processor market. Wilson said demand continues for organics, but he believes the category was in an oversupply situation, and this course correction will be beneficial on the pricing side of the equation moving forward.
Bob Wilson, Cranberry Partners LLC
Stauner, who sells the majority of his organic cranberries to the fresh market, said demand has been strong, with organic cranberries commanding a price about 50 percent higher than that of the conventional fruit.
Wilson said demand continues for organics, but he believes the category was in an oversupply situation, and this course correction will be beneficial on the pricing side of the equation moving forward.
John Stauner, Owner, and his son Ben Riker, Manager, James Lake Farms
Stauner, who owns the ranch with his wife, Nora, and farms with his adult kids, said he made the transition from conventional to organic half a dozen years ago for three reasons: the organic category offered a solid marketing niche; growing organically presented a challenge he found exhilarating; and philosophically, he and his family believe in sustainable farming.