The sight of fresh, U.S.-grown cranberries on grocery store shelves and in classic dishes adds a special dash of holiday cheer during the month of December. In anticipation of the holidays, our team at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service spoke to some of our American farmers who produce classic holiday foods and ingredients.
Last week, we got to know Ray Habelman, a fourth-generation cranberry farmer whose family has been growing the quintessential American crop for more than 100 years in Wisconsin. His firm, Habelman Bros. Company, had just finished packing and shipping its harvest two days prior to our chat.
While the fresh fruit component of the cranberry industry is small, Habelman Bros. sticks to its roots. “My great grandpa and his sons and daughters decided to keep on producing fresh berries so that the grocery stores could have fresh cranberries to sell during the holidays,” said Habelman.
Americans have been enjoying this red and tart fruit for centuries – making it one of our country’s “first foods.” Farming cranberries is a uniquely American experience, and the United States is the number one cranberry producer in the world. Last year, U.S. cranberry exports were valued at $293.6 million, and Wisconsin is the top cranberry-producing state. Typically, 60 percent of U.S. cranberries are grown in the state every year.
“Cranberries are native to our area and started to become commercialized in the mid-1800s – before Wisconsin was even a state,” said Habelman. Wisconsin has the perfect climate to produce cranberries, and the export market for cranberries has an excellent climate for growth.
Americans aren’t the only ones who have cranberries on our dinner plate during this time of the year. Habelman Bros. exports its fresh cranberries to Asia, Mexico, Canada, and Europe – with the Netherlands being its biggest overseas market. Exports are typically 20 to 25 percent of the company’s total annual sales with some years reaching 40 percent. “Exports have helped us maintain our levels of staffing and operations – allowing us to expand our business,” said Habelman.
Habelman Bros. has been exporting its fresh berries since the 1990s. The company’s recent participation in several USDA-endorsed trade shows has resulted in new and expanded market opportunities. “The domestic demand for cranberries is very flat,” admits Habelman. “The main area of growth that we see is in the export market. Our goal is to expand shipments so that we can grow our business.”
USDA, and especially FAS, recognizes this market is ripe with potential. FAS market development and export promotion activities with the Cranberry Marketing Committee has boosted U.S. cranberry exports by between 9.6 and 14.1 percent during the past 5 years. FAS and its cooperators hope to see this export trend continue to grow in the coming years with the newly announced USDA Regional Agricultural Promotion Program. In addition, USDA is helping cranberry farmers and others increase the competitiveness of specialty crops products in foreign markets, enhance domestic marketing, and improve production and processing practices through the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Initiative.
Join us in celebrating the holiday season and cranberry farmers across the United States!