Organic cranberries aren’t sustainable, according to farmers that grow them

It is always useful to encourage farmers to experiment with different techniques. This is one argument in favor of the organic industry, the price premium does encourage such experimentation. The problem arises when the organic industry promotes the system as inherently sustainable, when in fact there is very little evidence of it.

Recently NBC News published a story explaining why there was a shortage of organic cranberries this past Thanksgiving.

Because they are grown on vines in wetlands or bogs, cranberries are susceptible to an impressive suite of pests, fungal pathogens and weeds that are difficult to control, which makes organic growing particularly arduous.

It is really that battle against pests, especially in wet climates, that makes organic farming that much more difficult.

The biggest need is a safe product for controlling noxious weeds, Oakes said. Weeds can reduce cranberry crop yields by up to 15 percent, Oregon State University reported in a pest management plan, and organic farmers say current strategies for fighting back are mostly useless.
Organic growers are permitted to control weeds with vinegar and a product called Suppress, an herbicide composed of caprylic and capric acids. Both products have to be wiped on to prevent harm to vines, so Oakes and others end up plucking acres of their own weeds by hand — a strategy that they say is time-consuming and not sustainable.

These growers are seeking public and private partnerships, much like conventional farmers.

Starvation Alley has found a helpful ally in Oregon State University and Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit organization that certifies organic farms. Together they established an annual gathering of cranberry growers to share best practices.

But if new sustainable methods can be developed, shouldn’t they be used by all farmers and not just organic? Conventional farmers are already happy to embrace non-chemical controls such as cover crops and crop rotations. It is organic farmers that lack access to successful sustainable controls developed for conventional