Many of America’s cranberry farmers are struggling because of major price drops and continuing international trade tension.
But some farmers of this popular fruit have found a new way to use their farms to make money. They are putting solar equipment on their land.
Some farmers have already done so in the northeastern state of Massachusetts, the nation’s second-largest cranberry producer. Other farmers are also seeking to build solar panels on their farmland.
In this Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, photo, cranberry grower Dick Ward, of Carver, Massachusetts, stands near a solar array in a cranberry bog on his farm. The revenue that solar power offers has been helpful to farmers as the price of cranberries has dropped.
Researchers around the world have studied and tested combining traditional farming with renewable energy technology. But agriculture experts say such methods have not yet been widely developed in large farming operations.
Cranberries are grown in bogs -- soft, extremely wet areas. The idea is to build the solar-collecting equipment high off the ground. Farmers want to leave enough space between panels for the crops to be grown and harvested underneath.
Cranberry farmers hope to earn extra money by signing long-term land agreements with solar equipment developers. The farmers also hope they can continue to produce the same quality berries they have for generations.
One ongoing U.S. study suggests some crops in particular climates can grow well under solar panels. It remains unclear, however, how the cranberry plants will do over time.
One of the main issues the cranberry industry has been dealing with for years is weakening demand for one of its main products, cranberry juice.
The price of cranberries has dropped 57 percent over the past 10 years. U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that prices fell from about $58 for 45 kilograms of cranberries in 2008 to just $25 in 2018. The estimated cost to produce that amount of cranberries is nearly $35 a barrel.
Michael Wainio is a fourth-generation cranberry farmer. He spoke to Associated Press reporters about his financial struggles in recent years. He said he had to sell off parts of his land and start a separate business harvesting bogs for other growers, in order to to try to make up for losses on his cranberry farm.
“We’re doing everything we can to diversify, and it’s not enough,” he said. “If we don’t get this (solar equipment), I’d be surprised if we made it five years.”
Wainio is working with developer NextSun Energy on a project that would build at least 27,000 solar panels over about 24 hectares. The equipment would sit above active bogs across three farms in Carver, Massachusetts. The project would produce about 10 megawatts of energy. NextSun says this is about the amount of power needed to supply 1,600 homes.
At least one major U.S. cranberry producer has said it has no interest at this time in putting solar equipment above its cranberry bogs. A.D. Makepeace is the world’s largest cranberry grower and one of the largest landowners in Massachusetts.
Spokeswoman Linda Burke told the AP that the company already has solar equipment on nearly 5,000 hectares of its land. But the systems were built years ago on land not used for cranberry growing.
“We think dual use might be a better fit for other types of agriculture,” Burke said. “If you think about a cranberry bog, it’s way out in the open, and that’s for a reason. It needs sun.”
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Words in This Story
solar – adj.relating to or involving the sun
panel – n.piece of equipment that attaches to the surface of something
renewable – adj.any naturally occurring source of energy, such solar or wind
diversify – v.enlarge the range of products or the field of operation of a business
dual – adj.having two parts