ILWACO — For Malcolm McPhail, seeing red is a good thing. The cranberry farmer can make extra money when his berries are the perfect shade of crimson, but this year might fall a shade short.
Cranberries have not colored as quickly this year at McPhail’s farm in Ilwaco.
“A lot of the fruit is just plain white right now,” said McPhail, owner of CranMac Farm Inc. “Normally color is never an issue, so this is a big surprise.”
This year a late spring delayed pollination and caused the vines to stay green longer, which may explain why the berries are still unripe, McPhail said. He may extend the harvest to November to give the berries more time to mature.
The color of the cranberries is crucial because CranMac Farm can earn up to an additional $2.50 for each barrel of vibrant red berries. The berries are evaluated through a complicated process that measures the levels of anthocyanins, a chemical that deepens the plant color.
McPhail owns 122 acres of cranberry bogs with his wife, Ardell, and their son Steve. The Long Beach Peninsula farm is a part of the Ocean Spray cooperative.
The farmers estimate that their yield is down about 25 percent from last year.
“We’re going to nose dive a bit,” Malcolm McPhail said.
In addition to a late bloom this summer, a cranberry tipworm infestation in 2016 could have impacted the harvest this year, said Kim Patten, horticulturist with the Washington State University Extension in Long Beach.
The tipworm is a midge that eats the tip of the cranberry, damaging the crop yield the following year. Patten said the midges have been hard to control in the past, but new insecticides should help reduce the problem in the future.
Smaller crop yields aren’t the only problem this year. In recent years, North America has had an oversupply of cranberries due to expanding farms and more productive varieties, which has pushed prices down, McPhail said.
In a year when the price has dropped to about $40 a barrel from $45 last year, a couple extra dollars a barrel is a good incentive to wait for deeper reds, McPhail said.
He added that seven years ago, a barrel could be sold for about $60.
McPhail said that while this year has been disappointing, his 37 years in the industry has taught him to ride out the market ups and downs.
“One of the things you learn in agriculture is that things vary a lot from year to year and weather has a profound effect on our cranberries,” McPhail said. “It’s not a mathematical puzzle. It’s what mother nature deals to you.”
The last two years were successful and McPhail is hoping next year’s results will be just as fruitful.
“A farmer is eternally hopeful,” he said with a laugh. “You have a positive attitude and you do things the best you can.”