AG points out low uptake in cranberry farm acreage

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Frank Gale
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People involved confident about industry’s future

Bob McFatridge shows some of the early season blossoms in one of his cranberry bogs near Stephenville.

STEPHENVILLE  While the handling of a government program to stimulate growth of cranberry production has been criticized by the auditor general, people involved in the industry believe in its future.

In an annual report, provincial Auditor General Terry Paddon pointed out that in 2008 the provincial government launched a five-year program aimed at stimulating the rapid growth of cranberry production.

It was expected a total of $12.2 million would be spent on that program, known as the Cranberry Industry Development Program, but only $5.6 million has been paid out.

The province wanted to see cranberries produced from 500 acres within five years. But as of March 31, 2013, there were 14 cranberry producers covering only about 200 acres.

Bob McFatridge, a cranberry farmer in Stephenville, said he started his farm prior to this program and carried out an expansion about eight years ago under a different program. He said after a single year startup to the expansion, it took three years for him to complete the program, which expanded his farm from five acres to 20.

McFatridge is hoping to continue with the expansion this year and is looking at developing a couple more acres.

“I’m expanding all the time and plan to again this year, whether there is a government program to help or not,” he said.

Lloyd Warford, cranberry project manager for the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, said some of the 10 farms in his area have expanded to 25 acres and the larger ones have taken advantage of the Grand Falls-Windsor project financing under the government program.

These cranberry farms were initially started as a result of a program to try to stimulate the local economy following the closing of the paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

The auditor general was also critical of government for not completing proper reviews of the cranberry farmers who received funding.

During the five-year program, the province failed to meet its own guidelines for record keeping by not always obtaining business plans before government funding was provided. In some cases, the province also failed to obtain complete financial information from farmers receiving funding.

In addition to the funding program, government has also invested in cranberry projects through other funding programs, test farms and a nursery for cranberry starter plants.

Warford said some of the central Newfoundland farms are at a lower level than the 25 acres and could use an infusion of funding to kick-start the industry again. He said what’s needed is the owners to get their farms up to a sustainable level.

“Once established these farms can produce fruit for 150 years as once they’re planted, it’s pretty well just maintenance then,” he said.

While he admits there has been a slump in the industry for a couple of years, he’s confident prices will rebound and he hopes that will happen in the near future.

Organizations: Town of Grand Falls-Windsor

Geographic location: STEPHENVILLE, Grand Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor.The Newfoundland

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