New cranberry research station coming to Jackson County

The Wisconsin Cranberry Research & Education Foundation is buying over 150 acres of land for a new research station in Jackson County.

“We are thrilled to have identified the site for a world-class cranberry research station for Wisconsin,” said Bill Wolfe, president of the WCREF board of directors. “This is a major milestone in a long-term project that will immensely benefit current and future Wisconsin cranberry growers and the industry as a whole.”

WCREF is still in the process of buying the land — home of Robinson Creek Cranberry — with federal support from the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Tom Lochner, executive director of the foundation, says U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Sean Duffy were instrumental in getting this support.

“Through their efforts, we were able to increase ARS’ commitment to this program,” Lochner said. “Initial funds in that program will be used to purchase and develop the research station.”

He also thanked the individuals who contributed to the capital campaign, saying “this support will ensure necessary research in our growing conditions in order to maintain our leadership position, significant economic impact and sustainable and progressive agricultural practices in Wisconsin.”

Cranberries are the state fruit for Wisconsin, and for good reason. The state produces 57 percent of the nation’s cranberries — the most of any single state. And in 2015, Wisconsin harvested nearly 5 million barrels of the tart fruit from over 20,200 acres of land.

The new station will support research on the economic sustainability and environmental effects of cranberry farming, as well as fighting pests and diseases. Researchers there will be seeking new ways to increase production levels while improving the quality of the state’s harvest.

This fall, WCREF will begin to renovate currently active cranberry beds on the property. It will also create some areas for smaller research plots, which will be used to grow unique plant variants, test pest control chemicals, and perform experiments.

“We will be taking a look at all aspects of cranberry culture,” Lochner says. “How to improve management practices, continuing to sustainably produce cranberries — water conservation, water quality, etc.”

WCREF is starting renovations later this year, and research is expected to begin in 2018.

In addition to the research beds, the station will include a producing cranberry marsh to help offset operational costs. It will also host a researcher work space with some basic lab amenities, though Lochner says most analysis will be undertaken at labs on the UW-Madison campus.

According to Lochner, the foundation set a private fundraising goal of $750,000 two years ago, and has now almost reached that.

“We’re hoping to exceed it in the next two months,” he added.

Once it’s up and running, Lochner envisions the research station as a place of education and collaboration, where growers can come in, interact with faculty, and learn about cranberries at field days and clinics the foundation will host.

“This is a big step forward for the industry here in Wisconsin,” he said. “This will be a world-class facility.”

–By Alex Moe