Wisconsin’s cranberry business isn’t bogging down

    Cranberries are big business in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids now boasts having the largest cranberry producing plant in the world.

    Our cranberry business is going to get even bigger now that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and cranberry growers have reached an agreement to expedite the permitting process to transform as many as 5,000 acres into cranberry bogs.

    An economic study prepared this year by University of Wisconsin economists has concluded that adding 5,000 new acres to Wisconsin’s cranberry industry will create 1,115 new jobs and add an annual income increase of $75 million to the state’s economy.

    The CEOs of Ocean Spray Cranberries and Cliffstar Corp., two large and significant buyers of Wisconsin cranberries, have been discussing speeding up the process with Gov. Jim Doyle and the DNR so that cranberry expansion can take place in Wisconsin. Failure to come up with an agreement would have sent the cranberry companies seeking land in Canada, taking all the jobs and income that go along with the expanded fruit production.

    The new permitting process allows for one common permit application to be submitted to both the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers instead of two separate applications. A pre-application meeting will be held between cranberry growers and regulators to review expansion projects that the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association believes will efficiently result in more complete and realistic permit applications. Compensation for impacts on all wetlands will still be required.

    Some portions of the land that will be included in the Wisconsin expansion contain wetlands. Environmental groups are worried the wetlands will be destroyed. The CEOs of Ocean Spray and Cliffstar insist they will replace any wetlands converted into cranberry bogs.

    A greater global demand for cranberries has necessitated the call for more bogs. The United States is exporting 30 percent of its crop to places like the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, China and South Korea.

    Wisconsin is an ideal place to grow and harvest cranberries and expand production. The state understands the business and already has plants in operation unlike Canada that has plenty of land to convert into bogs, but lacks Wisconsin’s knowledge of the industry and processing plants.

    Cultivating cranberries is time-consuming. The time it takes from beginning work on the land to the actual harvest is usually about three years. Cranberry companies rightfully were concerned about the two-year permitting process in Wisconsin that was far too long to satisfy global demand.

    There is not a state in the entire country that produces more cranberries than Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association reports the cranberry is the state’s No. 1 fruit in both value and acreage, providing an annual $350 million boost to the state economy and 7,200 jobs in Wisconsin.

    In 2007, Wisconsin’s cranberry industry accounted for more than 80 percent of all fruit grown in Wisconsin in terms of revenue. Cranberries are Wisconsin’s largest fruit crop in terms of acreage with approximately 18,000 acres of cranberries across 19 Wisconsin counties, and Wisconsin provides nearly 60 percent of the nation’s cranberry supply. 

    Wisconsin’s 2008 cranberry crop is projected to be four percent larger than the state’s 2007 crop. The 2008 harvest is currently under way on marshes across central and northern Wisconsin.

    Wisconsin is now on a path to expand one of our most successful industries, create jobs and benefit the state economy. I commend the involved parties for coming to a mutual agreement that will benefit Wisconsin’s lucrative cranberry industry.

    This summer, I blogged that the Wisconsin blueberry is a superfood. The Wisconsin cranberry is also a superfood with many health benefits.


    State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents Wisconsin’s 28th District.

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