Cranberries prosper in Exploits Valley
© Krysta Carroll photo
Last Thursday was an exciting day for Stewart Dyke, owner of Berry Good Farms cranberry farm just outside Grand Falls-Windsor. After planting the berries three growing seasons ago, he had his first big wet harvest last week.
Cranberries, the tart tasting red berries loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, are right in your backyard.
The health benefits of cranberries are still being researched, but one thing is for certain, they can grow in central Newfoundland.
“(This day) has been three years coming,” Stu Dyke, owner of Berry Good Farms told the Advertiser from his fields on Thursday. “It's the first big wet harvest for me, so it's pretty exciting.”
Dyke, along with a number of other farmers in the Exploits Valley, harvested their berries for the first time this year, meaning an exciting few days.
“Everything you see here now is new to me so it's all a big learning curve, but we're making our way through it,” Dyke said. “Yesterday we beat all the berries off with the beaters and today now we're going to bag them up into 1,000-pound bags. We have a few kinks, but we work them out as we go along, so it's working out pretty good.”
By the end of the afternoon, Dyke and a handful of volunteers had between 9,500-10,000 pounds of cranberries bagged and ready to bring to the processors, Indian Bay Frozen Foods in Centerville.
“For the first harvest, that’s not bad,” Dyke said.
“Hopefully the market around here will expand more. I am going to try to sell some more berries locally. The bulk of them will be going to that market right now.”
Dyke said he was ready for a dry harvest, but with such young vines, they had too much wastage using that method, but he is hopeful to dry harvest some next year.
“After three years you have 25 per cent harvest, the fourth year you have 50 per cent harvest, the fifth year you have 75 per cent, and the sixth year of growing berries you have 100 per cent potential harvest,” Dyke explained. “It's a really big commitment, financially and (in) time.”
From the middle to the end of October is harvest time for cranberries.
“This year is a little bit earlier than normal, because of the great summer we had,” Dyke said, adding he can see the cranberry industry growing from here.
“There are nine farms in this local area plus four more on the island,” he said. “Everyone seems to be determined to make this industry work.”
It’s off to a good start, but he said more help wouldn’t go astray.
“The main goal of his whole project is to get secondary processing in this area,” Dyke said. “The way it is right now, it's going to be a lot longer coming than what they first anticipated because of the increased cost of developing the fields.”
The project Dyke is referring to is the Grand Falls-Windsor cranberry project, where a portion of the $30,000 for the first 12 acres was provided. The other portion was up to him, he said.
The actual cost was more than $45,000, Dyke said, and the overrun was up to him.
“So money which was to be used for the next 10 acres, a lot of that got chewed up in the development of the first 12 acres,” he said. “It's going to take longer for us to get to where we wanted to be.”
Currently, Dyke said, he has 10 acres in the ground. The one bed harvested this year is three acres, and it was planted in July 2010.
The other seven acres - three more fields - were planted last year, and Dyke hopes to
harvest them next year.
Those are the acres they are having U-Picks on, he said.
“There’s probably enough fruit there on those plants to do a wet harvest, but where the plants are so young, the roots aren’t established enough and I’m afraid I’ll tear them out of the ground with the beaters,” he said.
Dyke said he has another two-and-a-half acres ready to plant this coming spring, and he is hoping to expand five acres yearly.
And he’s not the only farmer expanding, according to Lloyd Warford, cranberry project manager with the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, who oversees 10 cranberry farms in the Grand Falls-Windsor area.
“This is the third of three farms that harvested this year,” Warford told the Advertiser at Dyke’s farm on Thursday. “It’s very exciting and I think I’m as excited as any of the farmers for sure. I think this industry has a very bright future and I think it’s only going to get bigger from this point on.”
Warford said he sees it expanding to 400-500 acres. He said one of the farms he oversees has 10 acres over and above the 12 that he development under the Town’s project. Another farmer has an extra 13 acres cleared for sanding this winter that will be planted next spring, and another farmer has 10 acres cleared and is now working to put in an irrigation system in preparation to put sand on it this winter, so he’ll have 10 acres to plant this spring, Warford said.
“We have another farmer who has four and a half-five acres cleared off, and two farmers have two extra acres,” Warford said. “In this area with the 10 farmers we got, they are expanding.”
The berries harvested from Berry Good Farms will go to Indian Bay Frozen Foods where they will be washed and packaged frozen and most likely be sent off to Europe, he said, adding the future plans brings the processing closer to home.
“That’s why the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor got involved with this project in the beginning is hopefully to have a processing plant in the central region,” Warford said. “And all indications are that the central area is the better climate for berry production, so I think in due time we’ll see a processing plant in this area.”