- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - At this rate, the Thanksgiving turkey will show up on Halloween.

At least one cranberry grower on the Southern Oregon coast began harvest this week, up to two or three weeks earlier than normal. Grower Charlie Ruddell of Randolph Cranberries Inc. believes his harvest will mark the earliest date commercial cranberries have ever left the Bandon receiving station, which he said wasn’t scheduled to open until Sept. 21.

Kellyanne Dignan, a spokeswoman for Ocean Spray, the cooperative of which Ruddell is a grower-member, said the harvest is the first in North America for 2015, and Ocean Spray has no issue with opening the receiving station so early.

“If the berries are ready to come in, as a co-op we are open to receiving them,” she said.

Cranberries are judged ready for harvest based on color, size, firmness and sugar content, which is expressed in the term “brix.” The timing of reaching that stage varies, Dignan said. “Mother Nature makes that decision.”

Ruddell attributes the early harvest start to three things: The new variety he planted, Demoranville, which was developed by Rutgers University, is earlier than other varieties. Second, the plants are two and three seasons old, and young plants tend to bear fruit sooner than more mature cranberries. Finally, like many other crops in the Pacific Northwest, warm weather has pushed harvest up by a couple weeks.

Unlike many other parts of the Northwest, Bandon has adequate water this summer, Ruddell said. At harvest time, growers typically flood cranberry bogs with about 18 inches of water and churn the water to loosen the berries. The berries float to the surface, where growers gather them up.

After cleaning at Ocean Spray’s Bandon receiving station, the cranberries will be trucked to a company processing plant in Markham, Washington. Dignan said they will either be processed into “craisins,” which are dried, sweetened cranberries, or used to make cranberry juice or sauce.

The USDA has projected strong cranberry harvests for Oregon and Washington. Oregon growers may top the 500,000 barrels they produced in 2014. Washington growers may produce 186,000 barrels, the most in a decade. A barrel equals 100 pounds of cranberries.

Prices vary, but Oregon’s cranberry production is ranked 38th in value among the state’s crops and was worth about $12 million in 2013.

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Information from: Capital Press, https://www.capitalpress.com/washington

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