Down On The E Farm

Cranberry grower Gary Garretson is preparing his 200 acres of bogs in southeastern Massachusetts for harvest. But it won't be a happy harvest. The cranberry industry is in a funk, with prices down 75% since 1997. It's enough to make growers gripe on the Web at

This season, though, Garretson and most of the 800 other growers in Ocean Spray's Cranberry Cooperative have less reason to grumble. Why? Ocean Spray is also online--showing growers how they can deliver their berries more cheaply, get better prices, and boost the quality of their crop. The real plum: Garretson says he boosted profits on his harvest by 5% last fall, the first year the system was in place. And Ocean Spray says it cut processing costs by 8% or more, and got better-quality berries from growers.

How's it done? In the past, anxious growers jammed phone lines during harvest time, wanting to hear the prices their crops were fetching. Now, Ocean Spray posts the reports on the Web so growers can see how their berries rate--without calling in. This gives growers hard data and time to adjust their harvesting schedules to get better returns for their remaining crops. The Net can't reverse the downward slide in cranberry prices. But there's no question that it's helping Ocean Spray and its growers make the most of the bog they're in.

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