( File photo )

Finally approving a Cranberry Marketing Committee recommendation made more than a year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a rule that will limit what growers can sell in 2018-19 in an effort to prop up prices.

The rule allows growers to sell only 75% of their historical sales volume, with the balance of the crop donated to food banks or other charities, used as a soil amendment, used to expand under-developed foreign markets, or otherwise disposed.

“With volume regulation, returns are expected to be higher than without volume regulation,” the USDA said Sept. 12. “This increase is beneficial to all growers and handlers regardless of size, and enhances total revenues in comparison to no volume regulation.”

The USDA said establishing an allotment percentage allows the industry to help stabilize supplies. The regulation could remove a potential 2 million barrels from supply, reduce industry inventory, and increase industry returns, the USDA said.

The marketing order volume control regulation, issued Sept. 12, applies to cranberry growers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Long Island in the state of New York.

The move came just as harvest was getting underway in many growing regions.

“From our perspective, the delay in their decision making was frustrating,” said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin Rapids-based Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.

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If growers had gone into last season knowing the USDA would act on the committee’s recommendation, they could have adjusted management decisions to reduce the size of the crop, he said.

Even so, he said the industry supports the action. “I think at the end of the day, it’s going to help get prices back in line in the short term, which is what it’s designed to do,” he said.

The long-term solution is to grow demand, both in domestic and export markets, he said.

Both fresh and processed cranberries are subject to the order, but organic cranberries are exempt.

He said growers will apparently deliver all of their fruit to the handlers and the handlers will comply with the regulation to divert 25% from the market.