The science behind the cranberry industry is about to get a significant boost.
The Wisconsin Cranberry Research & Education Foundation announced Monday that it will buy about 155 acres of land in Jackson County to create a USDA-supported cranberry research station.
Work conducted at the facility, the first of its kind in the state, will help develop and refine cranberry growing practices to improve crop yield and quality, support the industry’s economic sustainability, minimize environmental impact and determine how to best manage pests and disease, said Bill Wolfe, president of the foundation’s board. The facility will be located on part of an existing cranberry farm, Robinson Creek Cranberry, about 10 miles south of Black River Falls.
“We are thrilled to have identified the site for a world-class cranberry research station for Wisconsin,” Wolfe said. “This is a major milestone in a long-term project that will immensely benefit current and future Wisconsin cranberry growers and the industry as a whole.”
Wisconsin grows 65 percent of the U.S. cranberry crop. In 2016, state growers produced 600 million pounds of cranberries on 21,000 acres. The $1 billion industry in the state also accounted for about 4,000 jobs, according to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association in Wisconsin Rapids.
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The $1.5 million research station is being paid for through a public-private partnership that includes $750,000 in private funds and $650,000 from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. The property will include 30 acres of production cranberry beds to generate revenue to help support research, along with another five acres of beds for further research studies by faculty at UW-Madison and the USDA.
The project, scheduled for completion by late 2018, will include renovating cranberry beds and constructing a small work station building with offices for researchers, a locker room with showers, and dry storage to prepare research samples for shipment to UW-Madison for further study.
Rutgers University in New Jersey and the University of Massachusetts have similar research facilities, but the larger Wisconsin station will allow for more in-depth studies on issues like water use and quality, root growth and development, nutrients and damage control, said Tom Lochner, executive director of the growers association.
“For cranberry research in the state it’s a huge step forward. This will allow us to really conduct a lot of research that isn’t currently being done,” Lochner said. “This (facility) will ensure necessary research in our growing conditions in order to maintain our leadership position, significant economic impact and sustainable and progressive agricultural practices in Wisconsin.”
Robinson Creek Cranberry was founded in the 1930s and is owned by Jim Bible, who will continue to grow cranberries on other properties for Ocean Spray Cooperative.