Cranberry growers tart on phosphorus

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Water plays a big role in cranberry farming. At harvest time, cranberry growers flood their fields (cranberry bogs) so the berries will float for easy gathering. The growers may also flood their fields to protect the plants from frost in the winter.

All this water presents a problem to cranberry producers. Phosphorus leaves the cranberry farm when water drains from the flooded fields. Cranberry farms have been identified as a source of excess phosphorus in some Massachusetts lakes. Since cranberry growers depend on continued access to good quality water for their operations, they need to find ways to limit the movement of phosphorus off of their farms.

Phosphorus is an important nutrient that is often added to cranberry fields as a fertilizer. It is also naturally present in watery ecosystems. But too much causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. These large growths of algae, called algal blooms, can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in the water. This leads to illness and death for large numbers of fish.

These concerns led a team of Massachusetts-based researchers to study ways to reduce the amount of phosphorus leaving cranberry farms. The study was conducted by Casey Kennedy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service and colleagues at USDA-ARS and the University of Massachusetts.

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