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Rebecca Harbut: Water conservation hallmark of Wisconsin cranberry production

[audio:|titles=Rebecca Harbut on water conservation in cranberry production]

Rebecca Harbut, Assistant Professor
Department of Horticulture
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 262-6452

3:08 – Total Time

0:18 – Wisconsin cranberry business
0:47 – Water use in cranberry marsh
1:02 – How water is used in cranberry marsh
1:51 – Water conservation
2:30 – Future of the cranberry business
2:59 – Lead out


Wisconsin cranberries for the holidays.  We’re visiting today with Rebecca Harbut, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin… and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

Sevie:  Rebecca, welcome to our microphone. Start out please by giving us a quick sketch of the Wisconsin cranberry business.

Rebecca: Wisconsin is the largest producers of cranberries in the United States and this year we are expecting to account for almost 60% of all the cranberries produced. We have about 18 thousand acres of production and the crop expected this year is about 4.3 million barrels of cranberries and each barrel weighs 100 pounds, so that’s an awful lot of cranberries that are coming off the marshes this year.

Sevie:  What kinds of things are cranberry growers doing to help us in the environment?

Rebecca:  Some new conservation efforts and sustainability efforts, such as trying to use less water in the production of cranberries.  There’s a lot of water that gets moved around a cranberry marsh through the course of the growing season.

Sevie: Rebecca, can you describe how water is used in a cranberry bog?

Rebecca:  So there’s three primary ways: the first is the same way a lot of crops use water, to simply irrigate them and keep them hydrated throughout the growing season; the second way is they use water to protect the crop from frost. In the spring they’ll irrigate to cover the flowers in ice and that gives the flowers protection from the cool temperatures that come at night.  And in the fall they’ll do the same for the fruit, when the fruit are still sensitive to those cold fall temperatures.  The third way water is used in cranberry production is harvest. So, water is moved from reservoirs, they’ll flood up the beds and use booms to collect the berries and the water will be moved to the next bed and then returned either to the reservoir or into the stream from which that water was taken initially.

Sevie:  And Rebecca, can you give us an idea of what kind of steps they’re taking to conserve water?

Rebecca: So, there’ve been a lot of efforts in water conservation recently. One of the big programs is tail water recovery systems, which really allow growers to recycle the water that is being used within that marsh and it keeps all the water contained in that marsh. We’re also using new technologies such as soil moisture monitoring systems that really precisely measure the amount of water that’s available to the crop so that we’re not relying on our finger or our feeling on how much water actually has to be irrigated. We can look at an instrument and it will tell us exactly when we need to put water on so we’re not putting any water on unnecessarily.

Sevie:  How’s the cranberry business likely to change over time?

Rebecca:  I think the future for cranberry production looks really great. I think having this product introduced in new parts of the world that are not familiar with cranberries through products such as sweet and dried cranberries and cranberry cocktail juices has really opened up new markets for our cranberry producers.  And, with the effort they’re putting into improve their production practices, you know… their focus on sustainability, I think they’re an industry that has been around for a long time and is going to be around for a lot longer.

Sevie: We’ve been visiting today with Rebecca Harbut, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin… and I’m Sevie Kenyon.