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In This Place

UMass Cranberry Station Offers Support To Local Growers

Local cranberry growers recently finished harvesting this year’s crop from bogs in Wareham, Carver and other area locations. Witnessing the harvest is a quintessentially New England scene, as millions of the bright red berries are corralled into flooded bogs before being loaded onto waiting trucks. But behind that postcard image is a lot of critical science that growers need to keep up on. At the U-Mass Cranberry Station in East Wareham, research on this iconic berry has been ongoing for more than 100 years, helping local cranberry growers understand the best available science for maintaining strong, healthy yields. 

Carolyn DeMoranville has been leading a team of scientists and researchers at the UMass Cranberry Station for the last 30 years. The goal here is to improve on anything and everything related to cranberry production.

“Anything that would be involved in producing the crop, from nutrient management to water management to pest management,” DeMoranville said.

DeMoranville cites the unique relationship between local growers and the scientists who work at the Station.

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Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
Carolyn DeMoranville has managed the UMass Cranberry Station for 30 years.

“Growers are welcome to come any time,” she said. “We have a very open-door policy. Growers walk in with problems. We also set up planned workshops where we have specimens for them to look at, or they can bring their own.”

And the cooperation extends further. In addition to doing research on its own 11 acres of bogs, DeMoranville says the Station also conducts studies on growers’ bogs, which have different soil characteristics.

Climate change is another issue that looms large for the cranberry industry.

“But what’s turning out to be that’s more interesting and more concerning is some of the extreme weather events that seem to be accompanying climate change – the large-volume rain storms,” said DeMoranville.

Cranberry plants also go through a dormant period in the winter, and DeMoranville said this could potentially be affected by climate change.

“That dormant period has to have a certain number of cold hours to reset the plant, so that then in the spring, when that bud begins to grow, it will flower normally,” she said.

The Cranberry Station’s lab facilities are in a small building across from DeMoranville’s office. Marty Sylvia’s entomology lab is near the end of the hallway. She welcomes visitors in to see her display case containing about 100 bee carcasses. Each is meticulously labeled and mounted in rows that look like a formation of miniature bombers. 

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Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
Entomoligist Marty Sylvia

    

Cranberries are pollinated by bees, and bee populations are in decline overall. That’s a big concern for people like Sylvia.

“We also look at disease and virus and all the problems that the bees are having as part of colony collapse. And it’s not just honeybees – the native bees are also having these problems,” Sylvia said.

The Cranberry Station works with growers of all sizes, from smaller operations with 20 acres or less, to larger growers who cultivate 100 to 200 acres. The A. D. Makepeace Company is the world’s largest cranberry growing operation, with 2,000 acres of bogs in the Wareham area. This year they’ll harvest an estimated 35 million pounds of cranberries.

On a recent sunny November morning, wader-clad workers stand waist-deep in a sea of red berries at a Makepeace bog. John Porter is Director of Research and Development for the company.

“Right now, we’re looking at the loading operations. Previous to this, we brought picking machines out to our bogs to basically knock the berries off the vines. The berries then float to the surface of the water,” Porter explained.

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Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
Workers at A. D. Makepeace cranberry bog in Wareham

He’s describing the wet-harvesting method. Cranberries harvested this way end up in sauces, juices, and things like Craisins. Porter, a biologist, used to work at the UMass Cranberry Station, which was called the Cranberry Experiment Station at one time. So he’s been on both sides of the fence, both as a scientist and now a grower. He said he still turns to the Station for guidance.

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Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
John Porter, Director of Research and Development for the A. D. Makepeace Company

“When I’m trying to find the answers for how to deal with various issues, I’m often reading literature that was written by personnel at the Cranberry Experiment Station,” Porter said. “Right now, we’re about to build 140 acres of new bogs. And I am reading very closely the best management practices written by Carolyn de Moranville to figure out how we should build these new bogs.”

For the last 100 years, area cranberry growers have maintained a productive working relationship with the UMass Cranberry Station. That spirit of cooperation has paid off with improved results for many cranberry farms. But the industry as a whole still faces important challenges. Tackling those challenges will determine how the iconic red berry - long a fixture at Thanksgiving tables everywhere – may fare in the years to come.