How can cranberry production adapt to extreme weather?

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How can cranberry production adapt to extreme weather?

Widely appreciated for their antioxidant and vitamin C content, cranberries have become a staple in the American diet, with a special presence during Thanksgiving celebrations. However, climate change has affected growing conditions in the Northeast, where the popular red berry has thrived for generations.

To better understand this issue, Boston College Earth and Environmental Science (MCAS) scientists are looking at how cranberry farmers modify their practices in response to extreme weather.

Professors Tara L. Pisani Gareau and Brian J. Gareau found that, despite Massachusetts growers showing less concern about global warming than the average U.S. citizens, the state’s cranberry farmers are implementing new, sustainable practices to secure yields.

Cranberries are Massachusetts’ number one commercial crop, bringing in almost $82.16 Million in sales in 2022.

“Cranberry growers are adopting new ways to sand their bog, installing more efficient automatic irrigation systems, and renovating them with higher yield varieties,” said Pisani Gareau, who also serves as the director of Boston College’s Environmental Studies Program.

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The investigation used an interdisciplinary approach, including content analysis of around 300 issues of UMass Extension’s Cranberry Station monthly newsletter and historical weather data from 1974 to 2020, as well as interviews and surveys.

Interviewees routinely expressed concern that warm spring temperatures make the cranberry bog more vulnerable to frost damage, the study said. 

Cranberry buds can tolerate freezing temperatures when they are dormant. Once the buds break dormancy and begin to develop, the threshold temperature when damage occurs increases. 

Growers are now managing potential damage caused by frost with overhead sprinkler irrigation. As the water freezes on the plants, heat is released in the phase change, which protects the buds from damage.

Additionally, Pisani Gareau and her team found high agreement around two main themes: better forecasting, and technological advances. Around 10% of respondents mentioned improving the water infrastructure of the bog to be able to better access and divert water as a way to manage extreme temperatures.

However, Brian Gareau warns that climate change is a highly politicized topic and can lead to polarized responses.

“The urgency for sustainable practices has prompted some growers to adopt various adaptation strategies; however, whether cranberry growers will employ tools such as climate forecasting to reduce production risk and manage water resources remains unknown,” he added.

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