Frosty nights force northwoods cranberry growers to spend more
The weather is complicating Wisconsin's largest fruit crop. Northwoods growers told Newsline 9 they're spending more money to keep cranberry crops safe after a string of below-freezing nights.
But this winter's unusually warm weather also has vines budding ahead of schedule.
Michael Obrien has been growing cranberries for 28 years. He's the operations manager at Lake Nokomis Cranberries in Eagle River.
"Farming is constant variety, constantly changing challenges," he said.
Obrien said warmer temperatures this winter jump-started the growing process.
"Some of the growers in the central part of the state are more like a month ahead."
But that also means the buds are much more vulnerable. "The early thaw exposes the plants and it can be kind of tricky that time of year to protect them."
Obrien said he's using sprinklers more often at night to keep the cranberry vines from freezing.
"It's thousands of dollars of extra expense for every night we have to have the irrigation going," he said, but the extra expense can pay off.
According to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, the industry pumps $300,000,000 into Wisconsin's economy each year and employees around 3,400 people.
Obrien said conditions this year are unlike any he's every seen, but there's still a long summer ahead. Having vines that are further along, combined with the potential for frost, means he has to be more vigilant. But he's hopeful warmer nights this summer will balance everything out.
"We should see numbers that are in line with the last couple years," he said.
Last year, farmers here in Wisconsin produced four million barrels of cranberries. Growers said that's almost 60% of the nation's crop.