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TOMAH

For Ed Grygleski and his family, this is the best time of the year.

Grygleski is president of the third-generation, family-owned Valley Corp., a cranberry producer near Tomah in west central Wisconsin.

The cranberry harvest in Wisconsin is about to shift into high gear, and forecasts are calling for an above-average crop yield this year fueled by nearly ideal growing conditions.

"We've had a great growing year," Grygleski said. "We haven't had a lot of extreme heat days. We've had plenty of sun and plenty of nice days. This big crop that we are sitting on is more weather-related than anything."

The outcome of the cranberry harvest matters in the Badger State, which is the leading producer of cranberries in North America.

About 250 Wisconsin growers raise cranberries on 21,000 acres. Cranberry production is a nearly $1 billion industry in Wisconsin, employing nearly more than 3,000 people in the state, according to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.

Cranberries are grown in 20 counties in the state, but the majority of the crop is grown in central Wisconsin.

Nearly two-thirds or the U.S. cranberry crop — 62 percent — comes from Wisconsin and families such as Grygleski's.

The family's cranberry marsh was first commercially harvested in 1880. And, each year about this time, anticipation begins to build as the harvest approaches.

"That's what you look forward to all year long," Grygleski said. "It can be a little bit stressful, but it's the best time of the year."

This year's harvest arrives as a huge oversupply of cranberries from a couple years ago begins to align more with demand.

Part of that re-balancing is due to an increase in demand overseas.

The Wisconsin Cranberry Grower's Association, citing the U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee, said 2015-2016 exports of U.S. cranberries increased 7 percent. China represented the largest increase by percentage, with exports growing 55 percent. Other international markets include Germany, Poland, Hungary and Mexico.

"Marketing efforts are beginning to pay off," said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. "We have a stabilization of the amount of fruit that's coming in and an increase in sales. There has been a lot of work on developing overseas markets."

Lochner said growers are still looking to see prices move higher for their crop.

"Grower returns are still not where we need them to be economically sustainable, but hopefully as we continue to see these numbers move in this direction we'll start to see the returns come back up as well," Lochner said.

Grygleski says he plans to eventually pass the cranberry business on to a fourth generation of his family.

"I couldn't imagine not passing it down," he said. "It was passed down to me, and I intend to pass it down to the next generation."

Wisconsin's cranberry harvest is expected to continue through October.

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