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Farmers will destroy one in four cranberries this year

This year, the cranberry industry will reckon with a flood of a different sort; just like the wet harvest, this one is entirely of its own making. The problem is simple. There’s a cranberry surplus. American farmers have grown a lot more fruit than people will eat and have flooded the market. They can’t save all the extra berries for a rainy day—or a year’s worth of Thanksgiving dinners—because we’re already storing much of the 2017 crop. There are more berries in storage right now then we’ll eat this year. And all that extra fruit is driving prices down below the cost of growing it. (Sound familiar? This is happening in the dairy and blueberry industries, too.)To get rid of some of those surplus berries, the cranberry industry has collectively agreed to destroy a quarter of its crop. The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved their request in September. The purpose of this practice, dubbed “volume regulation,” is to create enough scarcity to drive up the price of a barrel of cranberries. If all goes well, the price of berries will rise, farmers will come out ahead, and supply and demand will eventually even out.It’s a funny quirk of American agricultural policy that this practice, which is intended to manipulate prices, is exactly the kind of thing that sends tuna moguls to jail and puts poultry processors in the crosshairs of massive class-action lawsuits. But it’s actually totally legal, and even pretty common, thanks to the Capper-Volstead Act passed by Congress nearly 100 years ago, which exempts farmers from some antitrust laws. Capper-Volstead allows farmers to make decisions—like restricting supply—as a group, decisions that would be illegal in any other industry.

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The New Food Economy