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15% cut in cranberries planned

Lowering production may increase demand and price for tart fruit

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The federal government plans to make cranberry growers cut the amount of fruit they bring to market by roughly 15 percent below historical levels, hoping to aid an industry reeling from overproduction and sluggish demand.

Urged on by Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. of Lakeville, Mass., and other big cranberry players, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a so-called marketing order to avert "a potential for a number of producers to go out of business," said USDA deputy undersecretary Enrique Figueroa.

Cranberries are Massachusetts' largest crop, with 1.8 million barrels harvested each year.

Some 14,000 acres of farmland are in cranberry production, according to the state's Department of Food and Agriculture.

In theory, reducing supply could mean that consumers will pay higher prices, but the USDA said the impact of its marketing order on consumers should be modest.

Meanwhile, Ocean Spray, which accounts for about 70 percent of cranberry production, said it plans to lower some prices as it looks to reduce its surplus.

The marketing order — the first such order for cranberries in nearly 30 years — is set to go into effect next week.

But that may be too late for some growers to take steps to cut expenses on this year's growing season.

From the standpoint of planning a crop, "April 1 would have been the ideal date" for a marketing order to have been issued, said David Farrimond, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, a part of the USDA.

If an order had been issued in the spring, growers might have been able to flood some of their bogs.

When bogs are flooded early in the season, they don't need to be pollinated, fertilized and treated with pesticides — activities that incur expenses to growers.

Flooding bogs also can prevent cranberries from rotting on the vine, something that can hurt future production.

Don LeClair, a Norwell, Mass., grower, described the marketing order as necessary short-term pain.

Some sacrifices must be made now to increase the chances of long-term survival, he said.

Nobody was thinking of survival five years ago.

In the mid-1990s, the industry boomed.

When a 100-pound barrel of cranberries could fetch $60 and up, many growers scrambled to increase acreage so they could take advantage of high prices.