The dry fall weather is delaying the cranberry harvest on the Long Beach Peninsula, and growers are nervously monitoring their bogs to ensure they have enough water.
Industry experts say the drought will push the harvest out into November, drive up labor costs and put the crop at risk of frost damage.
"It makes it more expensive because instead of getting the crop in in two weeks, you get it in on and off," said Kim Patten of the Washington State University Long Beach extension unit, which monitors the cranberry industry.
Cranberries are a $2 million industry on the peninsula, and about 30 growers produce the bitter fruit for Ocean Spray to make juice and snacks such as Craisins.
Nationwide, cranberry production is expected to fall off less than 1 percent this year, to 7.68 million barrels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the agency's most recent forecast in August, Oregon and Washington growers are expected to increase production this year by about 13 percent.
Patten is expecting an average to below average crop on the Peninsula this year due to a hard spring frost and cold and rainy spring and early summer. Now, there's a danger that a hard fall freeze could damage the crop before it is harvested, Patten said.
Cranberries typically are gathered by flooding the bogs, beating the bushes to loosen the fruit and then skimming the berries off the surface. However, some Long Beach growers who use this method don't have enough water to harvest continually because of the unusually dry summer and early fall throughout the Pacific Northwest, Patten said.
"You have to wait for the system to recharge — two or three days or longer between beds."
For dry harvesters, such as those who operate in Grayland to the north, the dry weather "is a godsend" during the harvest season, Patten said.
Frank Glenn, who owns Evergreen Farm in Long Beach, was one of the few Long Beach growers to start harvesting this week. He said he hasn't had any frost yet, but he's worried about having enough water later in the season to protect the fruit from the cold. (Like orchardists, cranberry growers can protect their crop from hard freeze by spraying with water. The ice that forms on the berry can, to a degree, insulate the fruit from even colder air temperatures.)
"It affects the harvesting, because you have to be really careful with the water you have," said Glenn, whose 125-acre farm was previously known as Cranguyma Farms.
Glenn, who started farming bogs in 1965, said he's optimistic about a plentiful harvest, despite the drought conditions. He said he drew water from his 40-acre pond to make up for the lack of late summer rain, and he has five regular employees and two or three volunteers helping this month.
"I'm hoping that the crop turns out to be as good as it's been so far," he said.