American farmers growing cranberries, an essential part of Thanksgiving celebrations, have had to adapt their traditional methods to combat the effects of climate change.
The tart red berries, cooked with a hefty dose of sugar to make classic cranberry sauce, thrive only in the right environment, but climate change threatens to make conditions more unpredictable and extreme.
After a terrible season in 2021, Massachusetts farmer Billy McCaffrey is overjoyed with a record crop this year.
“Phenomenal, unbelievable,” says the 70-year-old former teacher, surrounded up to his waist by a sea of floating berries.
His cranberry farm, south of Boston, is one of hundreds in the northeastern US state of Massachusetts, the second largest producer after midwestern Wisconsin.
“Every year goes up and down… I just hope we can keep it and get paid,” McCaffrey says, worrying that an unexpected hail storm could still cause disaster for him and his wife Mary.
The McCaffreys feared that 2022 would be a repeat of the previous year, which, according to Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association (CCCGA) head Brian Wick, was “one of our worst crops in quite some time.”
“The rains and the environment in the canopy created the perfect conditions for rot (and) mold,” the expert told AFP.
This year’s growing season started with a drought, the exact opposite of last year, but farmers were able to use pumps and water to keep their crops alive.
That eats into their bottom line.
Now this year looks set to be one of the biggest harvests ever with a forecast of 1.9 million barrels (189 million pounds) produced in Massachusetts according to the CCCGA.
Keith Mann, 54, has equipped his large farm in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, with solar panels to help offset fuel costs. He has also installed several windmills on his property and sells electricity back to the grid.
While he’s not sure if average temperatures have risen noticeably, Mann says the “extremes of the weather are causing real problems for us.”
“We had drought all summer… Then late in the summer we had heavy downpours, (which) caused flooding, and the floods caused fungal infections.”
“Too much rain at once is a problem. Not enough rain for most of the season was another problem. When you put them together it’s a double whammy,” said Mann.
As for Thanksgiving this year and the one in the relatively near future, Americans needn’t rush to stock up on cranberry sauce just yet.
Farmers are adapting to the changing climate, producing new varieties that are processed by the massive Ocean Spray farm cooperative in Massachusetts.
“Thanksgiving, that’s what we stand for. It drives us,” McCaffrey said.
“You’ll have to change your technique and adjust it little by little.”
Northeast farmers face new challenges with severe drought
© 2022 AFP
Quote: Cranberry farmers fight climate change to protect Thanksgiving staple (2022, Oct. 18) retrieved Oct. 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-cranberry-farmers-climate-thanksgiving-staple.html
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