Extreme weather leads to B.C. cranberry shortage – just in time for Thanksgiving

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If you have had a hard time finding cranberries for Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, you have only this past summer to blame.

The unusually extreme temperature changes this year have put a strain on B.C. cranberry farmers, who are now working overtime to achieve that perfect red colour.

Brian Dewitt, a farmer with Riverside Cranberries in Fort Langley, said he’ll be lucky if he gets an average crop at best.

“Most guys are probably going to be pushing into the end of October, even November, before they can get their fruit off the field,” Dewitt said.

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Dewitt and the rest of the team at Riverside are lucky because they produce many different varieties of cranberries, some of which have already been harvested and sold to stores.

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But many other farms don’t have that luxury, and are slaves to Mother Nature.

The lack of rain and high temperatures this summer have made it difficult for those producers to ripen their berries, with some predicting a delay of up to two or even three weeks.

That means farmers could soon be fighting off frost from settling on their crops, which can only be done by continuously spraying the berries with water.

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But battling frost comes with its own challenge.

“The water is probably the biggest one,” Dewitt said.

“If [farmers are] short on water they won’t be able to run their sprinklers over their fruit at night to keep it from freezing, and there will be damage from that.”
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That’s the issue plaguing Travis Hopcott and his family at Hopcott Farms in Pitt Meadows, which relies on the nearby Pitt River to water their crops.

“[Even] at high tide, it’s just not enough for us to pump enough in,” Hopcott said.

The delay is putting pressure on farmers’ business relationships with Ocean Spray, which is responsible for 90 per cent of B.C.’s cranberry market.

The cranberries from Hopcott Farms are meant to become “craisins” for the company, but without that reddish colour, they’ll end up looking more like their darker-skinned cousins.

“The darker the berry is, the more they look like a raisin,” Hopcott said, “so Ocean Spray wants to differentiate themselves from that.”

With farmers getting a premium from the cranberry powerhouse for achieving that perfect red colour, they hope the weather holds on just long enough for them to catch up before the season ends.

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