PATRIOT LEDGER – Jack Angley, 80, sat inside a decades-old International truck on Sunday as a helicopter dropped crates of freshly picked cranberries onto its bed. It was the second day of this year’s cranberry harvest, and a busy day at Flax Pond Farms’ cranberry bog, where there was farming to be done, tours to give and a helicopter to coordinate.
This year’s cranberry harvest is expected to be strong in Massachusetts, with a projected 3 percent higher yield over last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. That yield would be good for about 2.3 million barrels of cranberries across the state, each barrel weighing 100 pounds. Nationwide, the harvest is expected to be about 9 million barrels, representing a 4 percent increase over last year.
Massachusetts is the nation’s second-largest producer of cranberries, after Wisconsin. More than 13,000 acres in Massachusetts is dedicated to cranberries.
At Flax Pond Farms, farming is a family affair, where at any given time you can catch four generations of the family working at the farm. Jack Angley took the farm over from his parents in 1967 and is part of the Ocean Spray farmers collective, headquartered in Middleboro. Angley and his wife, Dot Angley, who runs the farm with him, were even featured on Ocean Spray cranberry juice packages in the 1990s.
Brian West, Jack Angley’s 12-year-old great-grandson, popped out to help with harvesting at the bogs, while his mother, Jamie West, was talking to tour groups Sunday afternoon. Jamie West’s mother, Linda Everett, manned the register at the farm’s gift shop and set up samples of cranberry juice.
Looking out at the bogs Sunday, Jack Angley said his crop “looks excellent for me.” His granddaughter, West, said she was seeing more stacks of cranberries out on the bogs than usual – a positive sign.
“So far so good,” West said. “Last couple of years we’ve had a couple terrible seasons, especially last year with all the rain.”
The USDA’s predictions are always dependent on weather and many cranberry farms are just getting started. Flax Pond Farms uses a dry harvest, meaning its bogs are not filled with water like most others. Workers at Flax Pond Farms harvest the 36 acres of cranberry bogs with motorized machines and then ship most of it to Ocean Spray for processing. The cranberries from Flax Pond Farms are sold as fresh fruit, as opposed to being used in juices or sauces or made into dried cranberries, and yield a higher price per barrel.
“It’s pretty early, but at this point, from most of the growers I’ve talked to, they’re pretty optimistic for a good crop,” said Brian Wick, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association, on Sunday. “This year, with the cool nights that we have been having, this current weather not withstanding, has helped to bring on that nice red color.”
While a good crop will certainly help farmers, the cranberry industry faces tough economic challenges.
Wick said the price farmers could get for a barrel of cranberries destined for processing this year is expected to be below $30, less than it costs to create the cranberries. He said farmers in the state are spending $30 to $35 to fill each barrel.
“The price paid to the grower is still low,” Wick said. “So that’s the challenge that our growers are up against, and for some, it’s been five, six, or so years of that. … It’s a matter of cutting back your costs as much as possible, increasing your efficiencies, and trying to hang on, so that when we come out of this, and the industry considers it to be a downturn right now, and that things will turn around, and export sales is a big part of turning that around.”
Wick said recent tariffs with China are also hurting cranberry prices. The tariffs are especially stinging after years of investment in creating a Chinese market for cranberries.
At Flax Pond Farms, tours, a gift shop and a Christmas tree shop help supplement the cranberry sales. Passion for the farm also runs a long way.
“It’s been lifelong calling,” Jack Angley said. “It’s freedom. It’s being your own boss.”
By Joe DiFazio