Grower expands N.Y. cranberry bog
Peter Paquin eagerly thinks ahead about his cranberry bog business. And why not? A year ago, he grew 2.5 million pounds of berries at two locations and sold his crop for 80 cents a pound.
Last fall, a laser-scoped bulldozer scooped and graded new bogs on his land in Brasher Falls, N.Y., to expand this cranberry operation to 88 acres. Paquin has bogs in Middleboro, Mass., and in northern New York.
“The weather was right, and I got a high price for my berries,” he says. His success lies in trying to cut out the middleman. “Customers find me,” he adds. More than half of his crop went to sweet and dry cranberries. “They’re used in everything — cereal, ice cream and more.”
• Paquin has a ready direct market for his cranberries.
• Berries are harvested first in Massachusetts and later in New York.
• Costs have been cut dramatically by this do-it-yourselfer.
Cuts costs via innovation
Setting up a new bog can run between $10,000 to $50,000 an acre. “That’s for everything: land, grading, irrigation, purchase of stock and planting,” he says. Paquin’s costs per acre are about $15,000, because he owns the heavy equipment and operates it himself.
Canals are dug to hold rain and run-off water. As Paquin builds new bogs, he makes sure he’ll have enough water in those canals to support each field. The soils are clay, good for holding water when the fields are flooded. Each bog is covered with 6 inches of sand, which is reapplied every two to three years.
Paquin designed and built the pruner that clips pieces of runners from older fields. Its rotating curved knives are propelled by a commercial garage sweeper.
His planting house is a self-propelled, 15-by-20-foot enclosed structure on wheels. Workers stand inside, out of the sun and away from the bugs, as they spread the bales of prunings evenly on the sand. At the end of the house, a disc turns the clippings into the sand. Behind the disc, a roller tamps the sand in place over the vine pieces.
Next comes the sprinkler irrigation system. In May and June, young vines are sprinkled to prevent frost damage on cold nights. From mid-December until mid-March, the bogs are flooded with a foot of water. The frozen layer prevents winter burn from cold winds. Water is released back into the canals when the fields are ready for spring growth.
Beehives, rented from Squeak Creek Apiaries, perch close to the bogs for cranberry pollination. “The nectar isn’t real sweet,” he points out. “You can’t depend on wild bees to do the job.”
As harvest nears, the fields are re-flooded to loosen the underwater berries from the vines via a harvesting disc. Wind moves them to one end of the bog, where they’re suctioned up into a truck. After washing, they’re boxed for pickup.
A cranberry field needs three years to grow from planting to harvest. With early berries in Massachusetts and late berries in northern New York, Paquin finishes harvest at Brasher Falls in October.
Before berry bogs, Paquin was in logging. One time, his timberland came with 5 acres of bogs, and that’s how he got in cranberry farming.
The business is labor-intensive, and Paquin is in the fields for long hours. “I can work all I want,” he says of his never-ending list of tasks. But it’s farming that he likes. And he intends to keep expanding his enterprise in Brasher Falls.
Batt, a farmer, writes from Rensselaer Falls, N.Y.
This article published in the March, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.