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Canadian cranberry growers produce a record crop

While cranberry juice sales have gone flat, demand for dried is driving industry

Nova Scotia's cranberry growers are days away from wrapping up a harvest that is expected to produce a record crop, an industry leader says.

Blake Johnston, chairman of the Canadian Cranberry Growers Coalition, says the big yield comes at a good time because field prices are up 20 per cent and the weak Canadian dollar is also driving up revenue.

Most of Canada's cranberry production is exported to the United States.

In recent years, Quebec eclipsed British Columbia as Canada's biggest cranberry producer. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. account for a much smaller share.

Johnston, president of the Bezanson and Chase Cranberry Co. in Aylesford, N.S., oversees a network of companies in Canada and the U.S. that has grown to become the second-largest fresh cranberry supplier in North America.

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The Ocean Spray growers co-operative, based in Massachusetts, is No. 1, supplying about two-thirds of the global market.

Commodity prices for cranberries have been at historic lows for most of the past 20 years, mainly because of over-production, Johnston said.

For Canadian farmers and processors, the weak loonie has provided a much-needed boost.

"The good news is that, as with all commodities, when you go through a downturn, spring does come,'' Johnston said in an interview. "Things are turning around. We're certainly seeing an increase from where we were last year.''

The harvest is expected to continue in Nova Scotia for the next week.

Johnston said demand for cranberries is slowly increasing amid a changing global market. In the past, cranberry juice products were the industry's mainstay, but that market has gone flat. Sales of sweetened, dried cranberries are now driving the industry.

In British Columbia, about 95 per cent of cranberry growers are part of the Ocean Spray co-operative. Like their counterparts in Nova Scotia, B.C. farmers are bringing in a big crop, despite having suffered through a long, dry summer.

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"For B.C., it has been a good harvest,'' says Geraldine Auston, spokeswoman for the B.C. Cranberry Marketing Commission. "Given the summer we've just had, our industry has come off quite well.''

Auston said the slumping Canadian dollar has provided a boost, but she stressed that growers within the Ocean Spray co-operative typically benefit from more stable pricing.

Commercial production of cranberries in Canada began in 1872 in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. The woody perennial thrives in moist acidic soils such as peat.

At harvest time, cranberry bogs are typically flooded and small, combine-like harvesters are brought it to dislodge the berries from the vines. The fruit then floats to the surface, where it's sucked up for processing.

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