Annual cranberry harvest underway in Wisconsin

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 5:11 PM CDT
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JACKSON COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU) - An annual tradition is underway in Wisconsin, as thousands of cranberries are being harvested across the state.

Wade Brockman is the marsh manager at the Wisconsin Cranberry Research Station in Jackson County, which started its harvest on Monday.

Brockman says the process marks the culmination of many months of hard work.

“It starts in the spring with frost watch, then we go into the growing season fertilizing, spraying, doing what we have to do to grow crop,” Brockman detailed. “We get to this point to where we flood, we pick the fruit, we get it floating, and then we corral it, put it in the berry pump which pumps it into semis, and we deliver it to our handler.”

For Brockman, harvesting cranberries has been in his family for as long as he can remember.

“I grew up on my grandfather’s marsh and I’m a third-generation grower,” Brockman explained. “This is all I’ve ever done, it’s all I know what to do.”

Brockman is among the many growers which make up the lucrative cranberry industry in Wisconsin, whose product stretches across both the nation and the globe.

“Wisconsin’s the leading producer of cranberries in the world, we produce about 60% of the U.S. crop, and we do it on 21,500 acres,” said Tom Lochner, Executive Director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. “We’ve been the top producer for, I think, 28 years now.”

Lochner says cranberries net the state of Wisconsin around $1 billion a year, creating 4,000 jobs in the process.

Cranberries have been part of Lochner’s life for more than 30 years, and while the growing and harvesting methods have changed, many of the challenges remain the same.

“If you want to do this, you have to be willing to accept that 85% of what goes on here is totally out of your control, it’s mother nature,” Lochner said. “Whether it’s drought, cold, flood, you name it, you can’t control that, you need to focus on that 15% of what you can do to grow that crop.”

Lochner is optimistic about the future of the cranberry industry, saying growers are working to change the genetics of the crop to create an even high quality product.

Fresh cranberries will soon be available from supermarkets and local growers once the harvest is complete.

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