This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in the production of cranberries, strawberries, and bush berries. Agricultural products in this last category include blackberries, blueberries, currants, dewberries, loganberries, boysenberries, and raspberries.
111333 (Strawberry Farming)
111334 (Berry (except Strawberry) Farming)
The berry industry in the United States has a history as old as the continent. Native American peoples relied heavily on certain berries as a staple in their diet and passed on their knowledge of the fruit to the first European colonists. The production of cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries is a profitable agricultural enterprise that began in the early nineteenth century. In more recent decades, the industry has been dominated by large commercial farms, particularly in states like California, Oregon, and Washington. Research and development factors have become an influential element in the industry, as increasingly larger berry-growing companies employ scientists who work to genetically improve the fruit. Researchers also strive to combat the possible side effects of one uncontrollable factor—the weather. A late spring frost can seriously damage a farm's entire harvest.
Fluctuations in consumer preferences also play a significant role in the industry. For instance, cranberries—fruit indigenous to North America—enjoyed a surge in popularity throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. Wisconsin is the leader in cranberry production, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. In 2002, farmers harvested 36,400 acres, which yielded 5.68 million barrels. The average yield per acre was 155 barrels. Cranberry production in 2003 was forecasted to reach 5.83 billion barrels.
Production of strawberries, the largest segment of this classification, is led by the state of California, which produces nearly 80 percent of the nation's entire berry crop and nearly 10 percent of the world's annual supply. An estimated 1.6 billion pounds, worth roughly $1.08 billion, went to market in 2001. Per capita consumption of strawberries reached a record 6.6 pounds in 2002.
Production of blueberries, cultivated blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries, and raspberries all declined between 2002 and 2003. However, the value of production
of cultivated blackberries rose from $21.8 million to $31.4 million. The value of production of blueberries grew from $20.0 million to $21.8 million. New Jersey, Michigan, and North Carolina have been the leading producers of blueberries, while small commercial farms operating in California, Indiana, Maine, and Massachusetts also account for a percentage of the total blueberry output.
The berry industry in the United States is increasingly dominated by large agricultural enterprises. These farms employ a staff of horticulturists to develop and perfect new varieties of berries. Production and processing work on both commercial and smaller farms is carried out by large numbers of seasonal workers at harvest time. The berries are shipped out to a distribution center, where each farm receives the market price for its crop. Fresh berries destined for supermarkets are then shipped as quickly as possible, while the rest of the fruit is sent to processing centers to be frozen or used in other products such as juices. Larger commercial enterprises may have an in-house marketing staff that works with grocers to place their product in large eye-catching displays. However, much of the advertising end of the berry business is taken care of by umbrella groups. For instance, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., a Lakeville, Massachusetts-based cooperative of growers, has launched national print, television, and radio advertising campaigns to increase consumer awareness of the fruit. In the strawberry industry, growers belong to the California Strawberry Advisory Board, a collective organization responsible for marketing the fruit at both the height of strawberry season as well as in leaner months. The last type of group relies heavily on cooperative advertising efforts with grocery chains and produce retail outlets, but this is sometimes a difficult task. The campaign must be coordinated based on predictions of the likely date of the crop's ripeness, coupled with incorporation of other factors such as weather conditions and shipping problems.
The production and sale of all types of berries have benefited from increased consumer health consciousness. Beginning in the 1980s, people began to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets as a way to reduce fat and increase vitamin and nutrient intake. Research in the 1990s revealed that berries are high in vitamin C and fiber, are low in calories, and contain high levels of antioxidants. The demand for berries of all types has dramatically increased over the years and in some cases has even doubled. In the early 2000s, the Agricultural Research Service discovered that blueberries, cranberries, and huckleberries contained resveratrol, a compound believed to help prevent cancer.
Cranberry harvests have also enjoyed a boom in recent years. In 1977 total output was 2.1 million barrels, valued at $38.1 million. By 2003 production had nearly tripled to over 5.7 million barrels. The forecast for the 2003 crop was estimated to reach nearly 6 million barrels. Of all the major cranberry producing states, only Wisconsin expected a decrease. Production in Massachusetts was estimated to grow 17 percent to 1.7 million barrels in 2003, after jumping 20 percent in 2002. The New Jersey crop was expected to produce 470,000 million barrels, reflecting an increase of 9 percent from the previous year. Washington was forecasting production of 170,000 barrels, up 5 percent from 2002. Factors contributing to these increases were the lack of marketing restrictions in 2002 and 2003. Whereas growers were once allowed to sell only 65 percent of their average sales to processors, the lifting of these restrictions in 2002 allowed them to increase acreage significantly.
The increases in these harvests are also due to improvements in crop management that allow growers to harvest more berries per acre and at the same time better control some effects of inclement weather. Sales of fresh cranberries are tied to a short season in the fall, when they are harvested. This segment accounts for only 5 percent of the fruit's sales, but the product's use in traditional holiday dishes generates a strong demand during those few weeks. Dried cranberries or "craisins," on the other hand, have helped expand the cranberry market beyond seasonal demand due to their use in cereals and fruit mixes.
Strawberry production is the most viable of all subindustries classified in the category. In recent years both its production and value has escalated substantially. In 1977 the value of U.S. strawberry crops totaled $219 million. By 2002, the value of these crops had grown nearly fivefold to $1.08 billion. The majority of the strawberry proceeds, $972.6 million, came from fresh-market sales, while about $112.8 million came from processing sales. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that the per capita consumption in the United States reached 6.6 pounds of fresh strawberries and 4.9 pounds of frozen strawberries.
Combating insect population and the ravages of horticultural diseases is a major preoccupation of berry growers across the United States. In states where a certain fruit is a vital component of the area's agricultural economy, government-financed research stations exist to study growing methods and problems. In the Massachusetts Cranberry Experiment Station, for instance, horticulturists and entomologists discovered in 1929 that the blunt-nosed leafhopper was responsible for the scourge of the "false-blossom" disease, which had devastated cranberry harvests for decades. They researched ways to eradicate it through pesticides and fertilizers. Cranberry producers have also experimented with increasing the yield from each crop in processing the berry. Since 1955, they have managed to triple the amount of product from each acre.
In the strawberry industry, research has played a vital role in the development of the business since World War II. Working with the California Department of Agriculture, growers were able to create new varieties of the fruit that could better withstand insects and the vagaries of rain and wind. Research into improved growing and harvesting methods, in conjunction with university agricultural labs, also made a great impact on the state's strawberry industry. By the early 1990s, one acre of land could produce twenty-five tons of the fruit, a tenfold increase over a decade. Other research has looked at increasing the amount of nutrients in fruits. In the 1980s government researchers detected traces of ellagic acid in strawberries, a compound thought to have cancer-inhibiting qualities. Since then, experiments have been conducted to increase the amount of the acid in the fruit as well as in other berries. Research reports made public in 1993 asserted that raspberries and strawberries were found to have their own natural mold-inhibiting compounds. Termed 2-nonanone, this compound occurs naturally in the fruit; when used to chemically treat the berry, it further prolongs the shelf life of the fruit with no adverse effects.
Research has also played a role in creating new product segments in this industry. The boysenberry is a recent type of fruit developed from loganberry, blackberry, and raspberry strains, yielding a seedless berry ideal for jams.
In 1998, five new cultivars of blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries were developed and released that had the advantage of ripening before or after the typical growing season, which made the berries available longer throughout the summer. The new berry cultivars were also developed to produce much larger fruit than existing commercial counterparts. One of the cultivars, the Black Butte berry, is almost twice the size of most fresh blackberries. The Siskiyou cultivar, which ripens a couple weeks ahead of the main berry season, has already developed a niche market. The Chandler cultivar, a highbush blueberry, is a large midseason berry that provides ripe fruit for four to five weeks. Most blueberries only ripen over a three-week period. Two new strawberry cultivars, named Firecracker and Independence, will produce berries longer, thus extending the strawberry season up to 3 weeks. The development of new cultivars continued well into the early 2000s.
National Agricultural Statistics Service. Cranberries, 19 August 2003. Available from http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/reports/nassr/fruit/zcr-bb/cran0803.txt .
U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook." Washington, DC: Economic Research Service, 28 January 2004. Available from http://www.ers.usda.gov .
U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Washington Agri-Facts." Washington, DC: Washington Agricultural Statistics Service, 28 January 2004. Available from http://www.nass.usda.gov/wa/agri2jan.pdf .