John Moss, 33, is a grower at Elm Lake Cranberry in Cranmoor, Wis.
How large is your operation?
We have 150 acres of cranberry vines. Our yield varies, but we average five million pounds a year.
I’m the fourth generation in our family business. All our berries go to Ocean Spray; we’re part of its co-op of growers, which is 100 percent member owned. We’re mostly multigenerational family farms. Ours is in the center of the state.
You didn’t plan on working on the family farm. What changed your mind?
I worked on the farm as a kid, but in high school I was interested in computer science, so I got a degree in the field at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. Afterward, I worked at a software company and later started my own.
When my wife and I started having children, we decided a farm was the ideal place to raise them, so in 2014 we returned home and joined my parents. Looking back, I realize I had been drawn to software so I could improve some processes on our farm.
Are you doing that?
I’ve developed a smartphone app for our irrigation systems that allows us to remotely control and monitor them. Now I’m writing a record-keeping program that tracks equipment maintenance and inputs and outputs like the amount of fertilizer applied and crop yield. I hope to sell it to other growers.
What does harvesting involve?
Harvest season is from mid-September to the end of October. My dad and I have three employees helping us.
When the berries are ripe, we flood the beds, or what some people call bogs, so the berries come off the vine easier. After we load them into trucks to transport them to the Ocean Spray plant down the road, we need to remove the water in the beds quickly so it doesn’t damage the vines. To do that, we remove boards from the floodgates or occasionally pump the water out.
Is it as labor intensive as it sounds?
Not like it was for my father and grandfather. These days, we have more machinery, such as an 80-foot fertilizer boom to spread nutrients. For harvesting we use a harrow that we’ve modified, basically a bunch of metal bars that pop the berries off the vine when we drag it through the beds after a low, first flooding.
Cranberries float, so when we add more water, they rise to the top and we can collect them without damaging them.
What do you do the rest of the year?
In the winter, we flood the fields with water when it’s cold enough to freeze. The ice acts as an insulating layer to protect the tiny buds from the colder temperatures above. Around February, we place sand on the ice, and when the ice melts, the sand falls and stimulates new vine growth.
In spring, we check for damage from the winter. The buds bloom in June, and we bring in honeybees to pollinate the flowers. We fertilize the vines, monitor for plant strep and monitor soil tension probes to see what’s happening under the plants. We also water carefully.
Cranberries are picky. You need just the right amount of water.
Do you ever tire of eating cranberries?
No. I drink cranberry juice and eat dried cranberries year round, and there are tons of recipes that use them.