ILWACO, Wash. — October and November are the peak harvest months for Washington cranberry farms.
Last year was a struggle for a lot of cranberry farmers because of the dry summer. Those conditions made it hard to flood the bogs and pushed the harvest into the colder weather. But this year most farms are already soaked and they’re up to their knees in berries.
Ardell and Malcolm McPhall have been working their plots since 1982. Their team is filling up the trucks fast and doing their best to keep their heads above water.
Water is pumped in to the bogs to make harvesting easier. A machine called a beater shakes the berries loose and then they float to the surface. After that, it’s easy picking.
“These will probably go for Craisins or they’ll take them to the freezers and used for cranberry juice,” said Ardell.
Washington state is the fifth largest cranberry producer in the country, and in Pacific County the crop can bring in $8 million to $10 million a year, as long as the weather cooperates.
“Last year it was kind of bad, our pond was way down; we were worried,” said Ardell. “We had to wait a long time on this farm to harvest.”
But this year’s heavy rains made for a lot less stress this fall.
Universities from Rutgers to Washington State are working to develop new, heartier varieties of cranberry, and the farmers are glad to have them as cranberry science can mean good things for their bottom line.
“These are varieties that will out-produce what we grow now by double or triple our current production levels,” said Dr. Kim Patten with the Washington State University.
The tart fruit is good for tourism, too. The 92nd annual Cranberrian Festival is this weekend on the Long Beach Peninsula. Visitors can take a trolley tour of the bogs or get a big slice of cranberry-peach pie.