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Cranberry Growers Tart on Phosphorus

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At Thanksgiving, many Americans look forward to eating roast turkey, pumpkin pie, and tangy red cranberries. To feed that appetite, cranberry farming is big business. In Massachusetts, cranberries are the most valuable food crop. The commonwealth’s growers provide one-fourth of the U.S. cranberry supply.

At Thanksgiving, many Americans look forward to eating roast turkey, pumpkin pie, and tangy red cranberries. To feed that appetite, cranberry farming is big business. In Massachusetts, cranberries are the most valuable food crop. The commonwealth’s growers provide one-fourth of the U.S. cranberry supply.

Water plays a big role in cranberry farming. At harvest time, cranberry growers flood their fields (cranberry bogs) so the berries will float for easy gathering. The growers may also flood their fields to protect the plants from frost in the winter.

All this water presents a problem to cranberry producers. Phosphorus leaves the cranberry farm when water drains from the flooded fields. Cranberry farms have been identified as a source of excess phosphorus in some Massachusetts lakes. Since cranberry growers depend on continued access to good quality water for their operations, they need to find ways to limit the movement of phosphorus off of their farms.

Phosphorus is an important nutrient that is often added to cranberry fields as a fertilizer. It is also naturally present in watery ecosystems. But too much causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. These large growths of algae, called algal blooms, can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in the water. This leads to illness and death for large numbers of fish.

Read more at American Society of Agronomy

Image: This is the cranberry harvest of Atwood Bog, Carver, Massachusetts. (Credit: Casey Kennedy)