The Price of Cranberries: Other Crops Rise & Fall With Changing Climate


New England Cranberry Harvest. Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs @ flickr

Cranberries. Fall is the season for the sweet-tart fruit from this New England crop, grown and enjoyed across the region for generations. According to a recent story in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s crop looks especially abundant due to unusually warm weather. But these changes could come at a cost that’s greater than the price of cranberries to accompany your holiday turkey.

According to a Cooperative Extension cranberry specialist quoted in the Press Herald, the reason for the bumper crop may be warmer weather related to climate change. What’s more, this trend could make it possible to successfully grow other crops not usually found in northern New England, like peaches. One farmer has already decided to plant kiwi.

CLF is partnering with the American Farmland Trust and the New England Sustainable Agriculture working group to advance the regionally-produced share of agricultural products in our grocery stores, and to sustain New England’s working farms. With that goal in mind, this expansion of crops and diversification of business may seem like good news.  As any working farmer will tell you, adapting to changing conditions by selecting new varieties and hedging against loss is something they do all the time. But as that same farmer would tell you, gaining the opportunity for one new crop will likely come at the expense of losing another.

Cranberries did well this year because of an exceptionally early thaw. Many maple syrup producers, on the other hand, struggled with a much shorter tapping season, a situation that is becoming more likely every year. The maple trees will still be there (they grow as far south as Virginia), but the sap we love as syrup won’t flow if the ground hasn’t frozen for the required time.

Up with cranberries and down with maple syrup – the rise of one may come with the fall of the other. Is this a cost we are willing to accept?

Even though the exact path of climate change affecting both New England and New England’s agriculture remains uncertain, one thing is clear: our climate is changing – a reality already documented in the northern migration of harmful insects and the redrawing of the USDA plant hardiness map.  While we may applaud the efforts of New England farmers to adapt to changing circumstances and become more “climate resilient,” we can’t afford to ignore what’s causing the changes in the first place.  We need to do more to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution causing global warming. Our current climate trajectory involves risks, the scope of which we’re still trying to understand – and likely won’t be able to fully map until it’s far too late.

And so, as much I enjoy Maine peaches, it’s important that we recognize that there will be climate change winners and losers. Not only will this be on the farm: it will be true across New England’s economy. CLF’s support for sustainable regional agriculture, whether in a vacant lot in Boston or northern Aroostook County, Maine, will be critical.

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