By the numbers, cranberries are big business in Wisconsin. The Badger State produces 58 percent of the nation’s cranberry crop, making Wisconsin the top producer in the country. Five million barrels of cranberries are produced in Wisconsin each year.
But these incredible numbers do not tell the whole story. To understand the state’s cranberry crop, you must visit the marshes and meet the growers. One of the state’s most knowledgeable growers is Rocky Biegel of Dempze Cranberry Company. He clearly sees the importance of the cranberry to central Wisconsin.
“Cranberries are vitally important to our community,” says Biegel. “The industry is a driver in terms of money and jobs.”
Knowing the importance of their industry, Wisconsin’s cranberry farmers take their job very seriously — particularly their commitment to the environment.
“The cranberry industry in Wisconsin is on the cutting edge for production as well as sustainability,” says Biegel. “Among growers today, there’s a tremendous emphasis on wildlife and conservation.”
Biegel’s commitment to protecting the environment is bolstered by the information and advice he gets from UW–Madison and its Extension staff. For instance, UW–Extension staff have advised growers on protecting water resources, showing them what chemicals they should and shouldn’t be using, and how to use moisture and temperature testing to manage their use of water.
“It has led to big reductions in water use,” says Biegel, “as well as a huge reduction in phosphorus.” That’s important because phosphorus can have a negative impact on water quality.
Of all the programs coming out of the UW, Biegel says, the one that has had the most powerful effect on grower practices is the integrated pest management program (IPM), a joint program of CALS and UW-Extension.
“The IPM program is state-of-the-art,” he says. “Their top-notch training has allowed me to use the safest chemicals and minimize spraying by helping me to spray at the right time or when to use flooding.”
The UW has helped growers stay ahead of the rest of the country. “We were already talking about sustainability 15 years ago,” says Biegel. “The university has always been there for us and keeps us on the cutting edge. Working with the UW has been an absolute treat.”
This profile is part of the WFAA’s Boundless Together series of stories.