Good news for the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts came from more than 7,000 miles away last week, when India agreed to slash tariffs on several US agricultural products — including the cranberry.
The agreement, announced on Sept. 8 by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai as President Biden attended the G20 summit in New Delhi, will reduce tariffs from 30 percent to 10 percent for frozen, fresh, and dried cranberries, and from 30 percent to 5 percent for processed products, such as juice and Thanksgiving-ready canned cranberries. The cuts are expected to boost exports to the world’s most populous country, which is a growing market for the tart red fruit.
Nearly a quarter of the US cranberry crop is produced in Massachusetts, and growers here welcomed the move, said Brian Wick, executive director of the Plymouth-based trade association Massachusetts Cranberries.
“Certainly, it’s something that’s going to have that long-term impact,” said Wick, whose group represents approximately 300 growers in the state. “It will give us a better advantage in the marketplace.”
The news serves as a bright spot amid the challenges facing the state’s nearly 13,000 acres of cranberry bogs, which generate $1.7 billion for the Massachusetts economy, according to a June report from agricultural lender Farm Credit East.
Consequences of climate change, such as droughts and warming winters, have complicated the cranberry production cycle. Oversupply and depressed prices have bedeviled the industry for years; in 2018, the United States Agricultural Department authorized Massachusetts farmers to dump a quarter of their crop in an effort to boost prices.
Then there was former president Donald Trump’s trade war with China, a country that at one time offered a skyrocketing market for cranberries. In 2018, China slapped a steep retaliatory tariff on the fruit, among other imports.
“The cranberry industry is impacted by trade policy more than other agricultural sector in Massachusetts, partly due to political leverage,” according to the 2022 annual report from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
As the Chinese tariff pummeled profits, Senator Elizabeth Warren was one of several Massachusetts lawmakers who sought federal assistance for cranberry growers. In a letter to then-US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Warren, Senator Edward Markey, and Representatives William Keating and Joseph P. Kennedy III urged the exploration of “new markets” for the fruit.
Now, India could prove to be just that, Warren said.
“I know that we lost some cranberry growers here in Massachusetts, and I know others had to take on a lot of debt and were really struggling to keep their farms going,” Warren said in an interview. “Now, there’s a path to a more sustainable industry long-term. Opening up a market like India to our cranberry growers is a big deal — not just for tomorrow or next month, but for years and years to come.”
As part of the agreement — which Tai says settles the only remaining dispute between the two nations at the World Trade Organization — India will also cut tariffs on frozen turkey, frozen duck, and blueberries.
Since 2017, when the Wareham-based Cranberry Marketing Committee began promoting the fruit in India, cranberry exports there have climbed from $1.6 million to $8.6 million, the group reported. It anticipates even stronger growth with the tariff reduction.
“It’ll make a huge difference,” said Danny Raulerson, executive director of the marketing group.
Ocean Spray, a Lakeville-based cranberry farmer co-op that encompasses about 700 growers, also lauded the decision.
“It’s absolutely a win for the family farmers that own Ocean Spray’s agricultural cooperative,” said Celina Li, chief commercial officer, in a statement.
The cranberry (er, cherry) on top of the good news? It comes just in time for harvest season, which runs from September to November. This year, Massachusetts growers are expected to yield 1.96 million barrels — equivalent to just under 200 million pounds — a solid crop, industry experts say.
“It’s the perfect timing,” Warren said.