Decas Cranberry Products Inc., which has been in business for more than 80 years, spent much of its history involved heavily in the "ingredient" portion of the business.

Several years ago, the company moved into the sweetened/dried cranberry segment, to go along with its seasonal fresh berries.

This year, Decas is trying out organics.

"We will have organic fresh fruit this year," said Michal McManama, president and CEO of the Carver, Mass.-based company.

McManama wouldn't disclose how much organic fruit Decas would have this season, other than to say, "we don't be a lot." However, he said, it's more notable that the company, which also had some organic berries two years ago, is trying out the category again.

"We're looking (again) at the trends, and it's something we want to have in the future," he said.

Consumers are asking for organic produce in numbers too great to ignore, McManama said.

Others in the industry are noticing the trend.

"Organic is a slowly growing market," said Brian Wick executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association in Carver, Mass.

A very small percentage of berries are grown organically, but for those growers who are involved in organics, there are opportunities, Wick said.

"That's something that certainly has some positive aspects for the future, but it is just a small piece of the market right now," Wick said.

Marketers have said there are ample challenges involved with growing organically in major cranberry states like Massachusetts and Wisconsin. However, they also say organic production is going to play a bigger role in the business in the coming years.

"In Massachusetts, it's difficult to grow organically, as well, just due to the pest pressures, so it's challenging, and those growers who are doing organics continue to evolve their techniques and they'll continue to perfect them," Wick said.

While still only a small slice of the overall cranberry market, volumes of organically grown cranberries have been increasing "significantly" in recent years, said Bob Wilson, managing member of the Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.-based Cranberry Network LLC, which markets fruit grown by Tomah, Wis.-based Habelman Bros. Co.:

"I'd still stay it's still something less than 10% of the supply," he said.

A problem with organic production of cranberries is cost, he said.

"Cranberries, from a grower perspective, are extremely expensive to put in the infrastructure for beds, water supply, to propagate a proper producing bed is a minimum three-year investment before you see any return," he said.

Per-acre costs for inputs in producing organic cranberries, even compared to other organic fruits, are "tremendous," Wilson noted.

"So, when you consider transitioning a piece of acreage to organic, you have that losses in yield that come with organic; it's a very weighty matter to consider," he said.

Cranberries are "a very cranky fruit" to grow organically, Wilson said.

As a result, organic cranberries are typically about twice as expensive as their conventional cousins, Wilson said.

"That's a tall premium to swallow, but we're working on ways to improve the cost of production," he said.

Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin Rapids-based Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association, said the organic berries that reach the market seem to be selling.

"I don't know if returns are as high as they'd like," he said.

There are "a few" organic growers in Wisconsin, Lochner said.

"It's a perennial and you're dealing with some complex issues, and there isn't a good organic tool," he said. "Quebec is converting a lot of acreage, but it still represents a very small percentage of the overall fruit being grown."

 
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