BANDON, Ore. — As the Coos and Curry county cranberry harvest season wraps up, it's turned out to be a mixed bag for local growers.
Some call it an average to good year, while others are left wondering if it's worth it to continue in the business, making barely enough per barrel to cover the costs of maintaining the farm.
Growers who are feeling hopeful this year include those who belong to the Ocean Spray co-op.
Others, who grow independently and deliver to local receiving plants for processing, have seen the price drop to a low they weren't expecting this season.
"The big story is a tale of two cities," said Charlie Ruddell, an Ocean Spray grower whose family owns 54 acres of cranberry bogs on Randolph Road in Bandon.
Ruddell said the discrepancy in pricing between Ocean Spray and non-Ocean Spray growers is wide. Ocean Spray growers, who are divided into an "A" pool and a "B" pool, may get as much as $50 a barrel for this year's crop, Ruddell said. Independent growers might receive as much as $30 a barrel, or as low as $10-$12 per barrel.
A barrel is 100 pounds of berries and the average cost to produce that product is $38, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
"When you operate at or below cost, it's not a favorable business model," Ruddell said.
Another change this year is the tremendous pricing pressure on the cranberry commodity market. While Ocean Spray takes its fruit from farm to retail, other growers sell to the commodity market, which is then sold to a third party and so forth, until it reaches the retail market. Often, the commodity market includes berries from the prior harvest, sold as frozen product.
The low price this year convinced some growers locally to deliver fresh fruit, which requires a dry-pick method that is more labor intensive, but results in a higher payout.
According to Don Kloft, Bandon Ocean Spray receiving plant manager and agricultural scientist, the crop yield for the 45 Coos and Curry county Ocean Spray growers was slightly lower than last year.
The slight decline in production could be attributed to cold temperatures in July. A dry fall also presented challenges for some growers, who had to wait until it rained to start harvest.
"We had an excellent pollination period, with plenty of bees to pollinate, but it was a little cold in July, which slowed things down and led to a lower yield," Kloft said. "The plants think it's fall, so they start maturing earlier."
Kloft said an additional piece in the pricing puzzle is increased production in Canada, particularly Quebec, where the government several years ago encouraged farmers to plant cranberry bogs. Those approximately 5,400 bogs, run by independent growers, are now fully producing, which has led to an abundance of berries flooding the market, driving the price down.
Demand is consistently growing, but not as quickly as it was three or four years ago, Kloft added. Ocean Spray also is continually developing international markets.
A significant amount of Ocean Spray cranberries are used for juice products and Craisins, sweetened, dried cranberries that are highly popular, Kloft said.
The Ocean Spray receiving plant employs 30 workers seasonally, this year from Sept. 23 to Nov. 26.
Kloft's dual role as receiving plant manager and agricultural scientist keeps him busy. He is available year-round for Ocean Spray growers, helping them enhance their production, answering questions and keeping pesticide records. Crops are approved or disapproved based on those records, though Ocean Spray's standards are more stringent than the government's.
While his dual role is challenging, Kloft said he enjoys his position.
"Bandon is a great town," he said. "I've met wonderful people and my growers are great. They are some of the best in the company."
Most growers are done with harvest by Thanksgiving, though a few in the fresh fruit or organic market will harvest up to December for the Christmas holiday.
Ty Vincent, a member of the Oregon Cranberry Growers Co-op, said the yield on his family's 30 acres has remained about the same for the last three years.
"It was a pretty average year," he said.
But he agreed that price is down for independent growers.
"There's just a huge over-supply and a lot more cranberries on the market," he said. "Plus, there's a large supply of last year's crop in freezers, so we're up against that."
But Vincent isn't complaining. He said most cranberry growers he knows also work at another job. Vincent is employed at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
"The cranberry business is what it is," he said. "It's farming and it has its ups and downs."
Dave Haueter, also a member of the Oregon Cranberry Growers Co-op, owns 14 acres off Randolph Road and leases another 14. He has been in the business since 1998 and said he enjoys it much more than his former career in logging, which he did for 20 years.
Haueter said his crop wasn't quite what he had hoped for this year and co-op members won't know the price until next year.
"Is seemed like a really good growing season, but my crop wasn't that great," he said. "Still, it was a decent year."