Record cranberry prices benefit S. Oregon coast

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by Associated Press

kgw.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 3:25 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 16 at 12:01 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Record cranberry prices are boosting the economy of the Southern Oregon coast.

Growers are getting as much as $150 per barrel this year, a huge increase over prices that had dipped as low as $8 a barrel in the past decade.

Last year's average price per barrel was $64. But in 2004 and 2005, the price was $34 per barrel.

Times were even tougher in 2001 when the production level dipped below 300,000 barrels and the average price reached only $21 per barrel.

"It's exciting to see how well our cranberry growers have rebounded after some challenging conditions earlier this decade," said Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Fueled by growing global demand, scientific discovery and diversification of the product line, cranberry prices have started to climb again.

Oregon cranberry production has remained relatively constant over the years.

Acreage planted in cranberries has stayed in the general range of about 2,700 acres split between Coos and Curry counties, where the sandy, acidic soils combine with the area's climate for excellent growing conditions.

Annual production the past five years has maintained a level between 450,000 and 500,000 barrels.

Those levels rank Oregon far behind Wisconsin's 3.8 million barrels and Massachusetts' 1.5 million barrels. But it puts Oregon close to New Jersey as the nation's third leading cranberry producer.

Production in 2008 is down a bit because this summer's lack of warm, sunny weather has left Oregon cranberries a little smaller than usual. But the price paid is more than making up the difference.

"The price has doubled even from last year, which is unprecedented in our industry," said Carol Russell, who helps run A&B Cranberries of Bandanna with her husband Allen.

"We are used to price increases of about a dollar a barrel. Last year was the first year since 2000 that growers have actually made enough money to cover the cost of production."

During the tough times, Oregon growers needed to cut costs and were not always able to use fertilizers. That left many cranberry beds in poor shape. It has taken nine years now to nurse those beds back to good health. In that same time, the industry itself has gotten back on its feet.

"I estimate we lost about 25 percent of the south coast growers during the downward period," said Russell. "We had one family with three generations working the farm that just walked away from it all because they couldn't afford to continue."

Some growers got into the business before the price crash of the late 1990s and quickly moved on. Most longtime growers struggled but survived. Recently, the industry has actually picked up a few new producers.

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