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Growing Cranberries

Habelman Bros. is a fourth-generation cranberry farm in central Wisconsin
  • Since 1907, the Habelman family has been involved in the cranberry growing business. Four generations later, the company is still dedicated to producing fresh cranberries for its consumers, and is the world’s largest fresh cranberry grower and packer.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    Fresh Berries

    Since 1907, the Habelman family has been involved in the cranberry growing business. Four generations later, the company is still dedicated to producing fresh cranberries for its consumers, and is the world’s largest fresh cranberry grower and packer.

    When cranberry products became more popular and in-demand, many growers began process growing, but the Habelman Bros. Company stuck with producing fresh cranberries.  

    Fresh cranberry growers sell their cranberries at farmers markets and in grocery stores, while process cranberry growers raise the fruit to be used in juice drinks or as ingredients in other products.

    “I started working for the company when I was in middle school,” says Ray Habelman, current CEO of Habelman Bros. Company. “I just love farming. It’s fulfilling to take something from a vine or stick of wood and turn it into something that you can consume.”

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Ray’s great-grandfather, Edward Habelman, was first to own the marsh in 1907. Edward and his sons developed the marsh from 13 acres to 25 acres preceding his death in 1925. In 1954, Habelman Brothers was formed from the partnership of Edward’s five sons.  Today, the Habelman Bros. Company is comprised of 700 acres, with three marsh locations and two certified packing facilities in central Wisconsin. Cranberries are produced approximately 20 miles apart in the towns of Millston, Tomah and Tunnel City.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    A partnership

    Ray’s great-grandfather, Edward Habelman, was first to own the marsh in 1907. Edward and his sons developed the marsh from 13 acres to 25 acres preceding his death in 1925. In 1954, Habelman Brothers was formed from the partnership of Edward’s five sons.

    Today, the Habelman Bros. Company is comprised of 700 acres, with three marsh locations and two certified packing facilities in central Wisconsin. Cranberries are produced approximately 20 miles apart in the towns of Millston, Tomah and Tunnel City.

    “We grow cranberries in three locations to protect the crop from hail and other natural disasters,” says Ray. “Hail is usually our biggest fear, so having different locations helps ensure an entire crop isn’t destroyed from one hailstorm."

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Cranberries are grown on vines, which are disked into moist, sandy soil. After a vine is initially planted, it takes about three years for it to produce a sizeable crop.Sometimes a marsh or bog may need to be replanted if there is weed overgrowth or the variety planted is a low producer. Planting takes place during May or June.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    Growing cranberries

    Cranberries are grown on vines, which are disked into moist, sandy soil. After a vine is initially planted, it takes about three years for it to produce a sizeable crop.

    “There are a lot of marshes in Wisconsin that are more than 100 years old,” says Ray.  “You only have to plant a cranberry vine once, and it will continue producing cranberries indefinitely.”

    Sometimes a marsh or bog may need to be replanted if there is weed overgrowth or the variety planted is a low producer. Planting takes place during May or June.

     

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Contrary to popular belief, cranberries are not grown in water all season long. The cranberry beds are only flooded for harvest and during winter. In Wisconsin, all fresh cranberry growers wet harvest with about a foot of water on the cranberry beds. The cranberries are harvested by a mechanical picker, which is used to gently comb through the vines with its teeth to pick the fruit.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    Cranberry harvest

    Fresh cranberry producers begin to harvest in mid-September and work through Nov. 1.

    “Most process growers have only one week of harvest,” says Ray. “Because we grow and sell fresh cranberries, our harvest season is a lot longer.”

    Contrary to popular belief, cranberries are not grown in water all season long. The cranberry beds are only flooded for harvest and during winter. In Wisconsin, all fresh cranberry growers wet harvest with about a foot of water on the cranberry beds. The cranberries are harvested by a mechanical picker, which is used to gently comb through the vines with its teeth to pick the fruit.

    In contrast, process growers have much deeper water for harvesting and knock off berries with a beater or harrow.

    When the weather turns cold and temperatures drop below freezing, the beds are flooded with water to form an “ice cocoon,” and protect the plants.

    “When temperatures fall to 32°F or below, we spray water on the plants to provide insulation and keep them from freezing,” says Ray. “Temperatures may fall at anytime, day or night, so whenever it hits 32°F you have to be out there spraying the plants with water. “

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Habelman Brothers Cranberries can be found in stores such as Publix, Trader Joes, Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Sam’s Club and Walmart, among others.  Keeping in contact and having great communication with big wholesalers, retailers and grocery chains has kept Habelman Bros. Company in good standing. The company also ships about 60 container loads (36,000 lbs. = 1 container) across the Atlantic.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    Storing and shipping

    After the cranberries are harvested, they are put into 300-pound bins and coolers for storage. Ray explains that in process growing, the fruit is immediately put on semi trucks and sent to the handler to freeze. For Habelman Bros. Company and other fresh cranberry producers, the cranberries are not frozen. Instead, they are stored in bins or coolers until they get a request for shipment. 

    Habelman Bros. Company uses brokers from Wisconsin to sell cranberries, and works with the Cranberry Network of Wisconsin Rapids to market and sell its fruit.

    “We have great relationships with some big customers,” says Ray. “We also ship a significant amount of cranberries oversees.”

    Habelman Brothers Cranberries can be found in stores such as Publix, Trader Joes, Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Sam’s Club and Walmart, among others.

    Keeping in contact and having great communication with big wholesalers, retailers and grocery chains has kept Habelman Bros. Company in good standing. The company also ships about 60 container loads (36,000 lbs. = 1 container) across the Atlantic.

    Ray points out that, domestically, the fresh market has been stable, and there has been an increase in demand in Europe and Asia. 

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Year-round, Habelman Bros. Company has 36 full-time employees. During harvest, they hire an additional 200 seasonal workers to help with the process.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    Employees

    “A company is only as good as the people working for it,” says Ray. “Things run well when you have good employees, and we’re fortunate to have great people working with us.”

    Year-round, Habelman Bros. Company has 36 full-time employees. During harvest, they hire an additional 200 seasonal workers to help with the process.

    “Seasonal workers only help us about three months out of the year for harvest and packaging,” says Ray. “A lot of our seasonal help have been doing it for about 20 years. They know what they’re doing, and it helps the process run smoothly.”

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • According to Ray, the biggest growth has been in the technology. Irrigation pumps, ways to use less water, fuel and sprays, and more biotechnology methods for pest management are all things that Ray has seen develop over the years.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    Industry changes

    Since Ray began working for the company in middle school, he has witnessed a lot of changes over the years.

    According to Ray, the biggest growth has been in the technology. Irrigation pumps, ways to use less water, fuel and sprays, and more biotechnology methods for pest management are all things that Ray has seen develop over the years.

    “Food safety is something that is huge now that wasn’t 10 to 15 years ago,” says Ray. “Today, we have a full-time food safety person on staff that does job training and takes care of the paperwork. You have to be able to trace and track every single cranberry.”

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Ray’s favorite cranberry infused dish is cranberry cheesecake with jelly cranberry sauce on it. For video features on holiday cranberry recipes, you can visit the company’s Featured News and Media page.

    Cranberries with every meal

    Ray and his wife, Staci, have four children, three sons and one daughter, ages 12, 10, 6 and 3.

    The kids love to help out during the summer and definitely have an interest working with the family business.

    “We have cranberries with almost every meal whether it’s meat with cranberry sauce on the side or using dried cranberries in a salad,” says Ray. “I can just eat them raw, by the handful.”

    Ray’s favorite cranberry infused dish is cranberry cheesecake with jelly cranberry sauce on it.

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Cranberries are also known for providing many health benefits. According to The Cranberry Institute, flavonoid and phytonutrient content of cranberries offer benefits for oral health, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and urinary tract. New research also leads to believe cranberries can aid in cardiovascular health as well.
    Habelman Bros. Company

    Health benefits

    Cranberries are also known for providing many health benefits. According to The Cranberry Institute, flavonoid and phytonutrient content of cranberries offer benefits for oral health, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and urinary tract. New research also leads to believe cranberries can aid in cardiovascular health as well.

    “There are a lot of stresses associated with being a fresh cranberry grower, and it takes a lot of patience,” says Ray. “I love farming though, and I find it rewarding to be a fourth generation farmer in our family business, and provide a healthy, quality product for our consumers.”

    For more information on Habelman Bros. Company and cranberries, visit habelmancranberries.com or like them on Facebook.

    Date Published: November 17, 2014
    Date Updated: May 11, 2018

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