Cranberry is a low-growing perennial plant that produces stolons that cover the soil and roots at intervals along the stolon length. Vertical shoots (uprights) from the stolon bear the crop. Native to North America, the plant is currently primarily cultivated in northern coastal areas in the United States (Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington) and Canada (Maritime Provinces and British Columbia), as well as in central regions (Wisconsin and Quebec). In 2014, cranberries were produced on 40,500 acres in the United States with Massachusetts producing 27.7% of the national crop on 30.6% of the acreage (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015).
Nutrient management for cranberries in Massachusetts is not different from that in other crops: support of crop production requires application of nutrients in forms that the plant can use, in amounts that supply plant needs, and at a time when the plant can take up and use the nutrients. However, cranberry is a wetland plant, and its commercial cultivation in Massachusetts takes place in converted (before prohibition by regulation) and manufactured wetlands. In Massachusetts, cranberries are grown in coastal watersheds and often depend on small lakes as their water source for irrigation, harvest, and winter flooding. Some of the lakes and estuaries of these watersheds are included in the state’s list of impaired water bodies due to P (inland lakes) or N (estuaries) enrichment. Under the Federal Clean Water Act, all listed waters must have total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits set. The TMDL process identifies the acceptable load and divides it among the lands that drain into the water body. When cranberry farms are within the regulated area for a TMDL, even if cranberry farming is not the major contributor to the nutrient pollution, a limit is set on the amount of N or P that can leave the farm and move into the impaired water body. Therefore, in addition to considerations of crop need, nutrient management, particularly that for N and P, must include consideration of environmental protection and the potential of water management practices to move nutrients off the farm.
The purpose of this article is to review recent information regarding nutrient requirements of cranberry and recommendations for the use of N, P, and potassium (K), the three nutrient elements most commonly applied to the crop. The article then continues with a discussion of water management and water quality as it relates to the management of N and P, the two nutrient elements most often implicated in degradation of coastal and inland waters in Massachusetts.
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