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Trends in the Massachusetts cranberry industry create opportunities for the restoration of cultivated riparian wetlands

Hoekstra, Benjamin R., Neill, Christopher, Kennedy, Casey D.
Restoration ecology 2020 v.28 no.1 pp. 185-195
acreage, cranberries, cultivars, ecological restoration, ecosystem services, farm area, farms, fens, growers, habitats, hydrology, indigenous species, industry, new variety, nitrogen, recreation, rivers, streams, watersheds, Massachusetts
Many ecosystem services provided by wetlands decline if they are managed for agricultural use. Ecological restoration of retired agricultural lands can restore these ecosystem services, yet practitioners require information on where restoration is possible and most likely to succeed. We report trends in the Massachusetts cranberry industry which suggest that cranberry farms located in riparian fens are well suited for ecological restoration that enhance their characteristics and functions as wetlands. We created a classification scheme for cranberry farms based on their: (1) crop status; (2) renovation status; (3) cultivar type; and (4) hydrologic type for the Wareham River watershed in southeastern Massachusetts. We ranked farms for their priority for restoration and extrapolated our results to the total cranberry acreage of Massachusetts. The occurrence of low‐yielding native cranberry cultivars in all riparian farms (i.e. those with a direct hydrological connection to an adjacent river or stream), combined with our finding that 100% of the area of the highest‐yielding new cultivars were planted in newly renovated but non‐riparian farms suggest that riparian farms are not targets for investment but instead have a high likelihood of retirement. We found that 20% of farm area in this watershed had riparian hydrology, a proportion suggesting the existence of over 1,000 ha of high‐priority farms for restoration statewide. Restoration of these stream‐adjacent riparian farms can provide an exit strategy for some cranberry growers, ease economic pressures on remaining growers, and develop wetlands able to provide ecosystem services such as habitat provision, nitrogen removal, and recreation.