WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. - Wisconsin cranberry growers are hoping a strong holiday season will help them end 2019 on a better note, as the U.S. trade war with China and weather issues have put a dent in their profits.
The Badger State is the nation's largest cranberry producer. But growers have been forced to adapt to different international markets for the bitter fruit.
Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, said crop sales are down 10%-15% statewide, and higher tariffs are a big reason. "The tariffs came at a bad time for us," Lochner said. "They did have a negative impact on our sales and our opportunities for growth." Last year, China bought close to $55 million worth of cranberry products, making it the largest importer of U.S. cranberries.
But U.S. export figures show in the first half of 2019, cranberry sales to China were down about 45% compared to the first half of 2018, before the tariffs took effect.
And Wisconsin growers have also had to cope with a wet fall, which was preceded by cooler temperatures during the growing season. Lochner said a new trade agreement with Japan has removed other higher tariffs they were dealing with. Growers also got some relief from being included in the latest round of U.S. Department of Agriculture payments to farmers affected by trade disputes. But Lochner said growers in his state aren't just relying on federal assistance to get by. They're focusing on expanding international markets wherever they can. "We continue to try and focus on markets where we aren't seeing a trade dispute taking place," he said. "We've been seeing some resources shifted from China to India, for example, and to the Middle East."
Lochner added international growth is especially important, since producers have seen domestic demand fall flat for certain products like cranberry juice as U.S. consumers worry more about sugar content. Wisconsin producers typically see one-fourth of their annual sales during the end-of-year holidays.