In Coos County, fourth-generation cranberry farmer Dennis Bowman has been farming cranberries for more than 30 years. Bowman’s Cranberry Bog is part of the 100 plus years of cranberry production in Bandon, Oregon. Cranberries grown there make up 95% of cranberry production in Oregon, and 5% of national production.
Adapting to Resource Scarcity
Bowman’s 62-acre cranberry bog utilizes water efficiencies and product diversification to help navigate an industry that is adapting to the looming threat of water scarcity. His operation uses a system of tiered, clay-bottom ponds and grassy dikes to create a completely closed-loop water system.
Throughout the growing season and at harvest, water is managed so it drains from one tier to the next, downhill. Final runoff recirculates back into the pond system to be used again. Bowman’s efficient use of his water rights and ability to supplement that water with rain water, allows him to harvest more cranberries than his water rights alone would provide, offering both economic and ecological value.
Bowman’s operation uses 3 feet of water to produce each acre of cranberries and achieves considerable efficiencies through managed water use. Diverting runoff from each field to the next also conserves resources. The closed-loop water management system at Bowman’s cranberry operation offers a solid example of farming within environmental water limitations by managing his water use effectively.
A Changing Industry
Despite the long history of cranberries in Oregon, the industry currently is at an inflection point.
The current game changer is a strain of cranberry patented by Rutgers University. The vines are sold under licensing contracts that make them too costly for small farmers. And, since they produce significantly higher yields, they are undercutting the market.
For small farmers like Dennis Bowman, the new strain is too expensive to introduce and the prices have seen a steep decline over the past 5–year period. One of the biggest factors in price decline has been the production of 8000 acres of this newly licensed vine going in Quebec, Canada. The result for Bowman and small farmers like him is having cranberry prices fall from $1.00/lb. ten years ago to $0.15-$0.16/lb. today.
Diversification for a Sustainable Future
Dennis Bowman’s cranberry operation near Bandon is hoping to survive the current changes and economic pressures in the cranberry industry by augmenting his farm with other efforts. He recently added a line of cranberry syrup and purchased a rental venue to draw in events like music festivals and weddings. Bowman hopes to be one of the winners in the changing cranberry game in Oregon through his resourceful use of assets and diversification of business.