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Cranberry Co-operative Goes Big in Rogersville

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May 3, 2010

Cranberry Co-operative Goes Big in Rogersville

Ocean Spray to take over 3,400 hectares in New Brunswick

by Tracy Glynn

This New Brunswick landscape will soon be the largest cranberry farm in North America. Photo: Roger Babin

FREDERICTON—Rogersville, a predominately francophone village in southeastern New Brunswick with a population of 1,100 and a greater regional population of 3,500, is set to become North America's largest cranberry-growing farm. In spite of the promise of jobs big agricultural brings, not everyone is supportive of the new cranberry beds.

"Whoever approved this project must not care too much about the environment. This is my opinion,” said Roger Babin, from the neighbouring village of Acadieville. “I've talked to people, some who used to go to this area for pleasure and now they hate to go there for a drive. Seeing what is happening hurts them. Others seem happy that work is being generated. We saw around 30 pieces of machinery working today. Yes, there is work, but at what price?"

Premier Shawn Graham was on hand to break the ground for the operations last June. "This project puts Rogersville on the map as one of Canada's key cranberry growing regions. Having an internationally recognized juice brand such as Ocean Spray choose our province as the location for a potential regional hub demonstrates that New Brunswick is the place to be for business and that we have the expertise to produce world-class agricultural products," said Graham.

Approximately 3,400 hectares of Crown land has been leased to Ocean Spray. The company plans to transform 775 hectares into profitable cranberry beds and expects to employ 100 people. Ocean Spray has invested $8 million in the first phase of the project and plans to invest $90 million over five phases. More than 100 acres have been planted this spring and another 200 acres will be planted in the spring of 2011. The first yield of cranberries is expected in 2012.

The government of New Brunswick granted conditional environmental approval to Ocean Spray to develop the cranberry bog on May 29, 2009. The project will involve withdrawing water from Lac Despres and impounding South Lake, about 20 kilometres west of Rogersville. Ocean Spray is required to monitor pesticide residues, in-stream total suspended sediments, groundwater levels, stream flows, effects to Lac Despres and South Lake and effects to endangered and rare species such as the Southern twayblade. The Southern twayblade, a rare bog orchid, has been found at only six sites in the province.

At the end of the project, Ocean Spray must restore to functional wetlands those areas lost to infill from the project. Babin wonders whether restoration of the wetlands is possible.

"What will happen to the water around the project if pesticides are used? Now there are many jobs, but once the project is running, how many people will be needed to keep it going?" asked Babin.

Babin, a 64-year-old father of seven, grandfather of fifteen and great-grandfather of one, has worked in the woods all his life. Surrounded by woods and encroaching clearcuts, Babin and his neighbours no longer make a living from the forest. Two of Babin's children have worked in Alberta and two of his grandchildren now work in Edmonton.

Babin has seen too many clearcuts in his area. He wants the government to protect the public forest for its watersheds and biodiversity—and he is not alone. A public survey commissioned by the government of New Brunswick in 2008 revealed that respondents in all areas of the province ranked the environment their highest value. The protection of water, air and soil was ranked as the most important forest value by 45 per cent of respondents, and the forest as “a place for a variety of animal and plant life” was ranked second by 38 per cent of respondents. Economic wealth and jobs ranked third by 17 per cent.

Today, Babin is a driving force behind a petition to ban herbicide spraying in public forests in New Brunswick.

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Ocean Spray, started 75 years ago by three farmers from Massachusetts and New Jersey, is the largest cranberry growers' cooperative, supplying two-thirds of the world's cranberries. The cooperative has been North America's top producer of canned and bottled juice drinks since 1981. Ocean Spray made $1.9 billion in gross sales in 2008.

Ocean Spray growers individually own their bogs while the factories and the brand are collectively owned. To meet global demand for cranberries, the company decided to create a separate investing business from the cooperative. Ocean Spray's search for an ideal growing environment for cranberries led them to the bogs of Rogersville.

Tracy Glynn is an organizer with the New Brunswick Media Co-op (NBMC) and a director on the board of the Dominion Newspaper Cooperative. This article was originally published by the NBMC.

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