Historically, cranberry growers who grow for Ocean Spray, Inc. received cash incentives for fruit that was dark red, which gave Oregon growers an advantage in the marketplace. In 2016, the color requirement changed to lighter-colored cranberries. This created a sharp shift in strategies for Oregon growers, as they would have to harvest much earlier to meet the new size and color requirements.
In an effort to help growers meet the new requirements, OSU Extension partnered with Ocean Spray, Inc. to determine color development and yield through the harvest season. Extension faculty collected field samples, worked with Ocean Spray to determine best practices and then provided growers with weekly updates on average cranberry color, sugar content, and yield so that they could make informed decisions about harvest timelines. Yield data were analyzed to determine if earlier harvest significantly impacted yield.
Initially, the focus was on the color incentive, yield effects, and associated harvest timing for Ocean Spray growers. OSU determined that there was not a significant increase in yield once fruit reached the level of color that qualified it for the incentive, so growers would not make more money by simply waiting for a yield increase and foregoing the new color incentive.
After three years of conducting this program, which is ongoing, Ocean Spray growers are relying on the fruit development data it provides to help them know when to harvest. An unintended benefit is that fewer growers are bringing fruit samples into the lab at Ocean Spray to be tested for fruit color, which saves employee hours and lab time at the plant.