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Ocean Spray to juice up provincial economy

(June 5th, 2009, Telegraph-Journal, Adam Huras)
Ocean Spray, North America’s leading producer of canned and bottled juices, has broken ground on a major new cranberry operation that promises to breathe new life into the economy of eastern New Brunswick.

Rogersville, long New Brunswick’s brussel sprout capital, is poised to become North America’s cranberry capital.

Mayor Bertrand LeBlanc welcomed company officials and provincial politicians to the Rogersville ceremony on Thursday, confessing that he’s always liked cranberries better than brussel sprouts anyway.

“This is a huge announcement, especially after the decline in forestry,” LeBlanc said.

“This is a great start for us to turn the page and get our economic motor running again.”

The Ocean Spray operation involves transforming 1,900 acres of Crown land into prime, cranberry-producing bog. It is expected the $90 million development will become the largest cranberry farm on the continent, creating more than 100 full-time jobs in a region battered by the economic slowdown.

It’s expected to produce $45 million annually in spinoff benefits for the province.

Rogersville’s brussel sprout farms disappeared years ago and many of its citizens are unemployed workers affected by the closure of forestry operations in the Miramichi area.

More than half the province’s sawmills are now closed.

With the potential for more than 100 new jobs, approximately 200 Rogersville residents attended the announcement and applauded Ocean Spray president Randy Papadellis.

“I was absolutely shocked to drive down this road and see all these cars here,” Papadellis said.

“I said: ‘Who are they here to see?’ and they said, ‘you.’

“I’m not use to these types of crowds, we run a cranberry co-operative, I’m not too use to speaking in front of this large of a crowd.”

Ocean Spray is a 75-year-old agricultural co-operative owned by more than 600 cranberry growers in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and other parts of Canada, as well as more than 50 Florida grapefruit growers

Despite the recession, Ocean Spray is forecasting nearly US$2 billion in sales for its current fiscal year alone, an increase of 10 per cent over last fiscal year.

In desperate need of more fruit to quench a market that has expanded to more than 60 countries, the company’s research zeroed in on the Maritimes as potential production area.

Premier Shawn Graham said the province’s plan to cut corporate taxes helped lure the cranberry giant.

Graham also said no government money was used to bring Ocean Spray to the province. He said it is strictly a private investment.

“Having an internationally recognized juice brand like Ocean Spray choose our province as the location for a potential regional hub demonstrates that New Brunswick is the place to be for business and that we have the expertise to produce world-class agricultural products,” Graham said.

The first cranberries are expected to be harvested in Rogersville by 2012.

“Right now it’s a lot of infrastructure, irrigation, buildings,” Papadellis said. “Within two or three years we should being the process of harvesting cranberries.”

The province will lease roughly 3,400 hectares of Crown land to Ocean Spray. Papadellis said at full capacity, Rogersville could become North America’s cranberry capital.

“It could be down the road,” he said.

“I mean we also grow quite a few cranberries in British Columbia on the other coast, so it’ll be a rivalry at some point between New Brunswick and British Colombia.”

LeBlanc said the community of Rogersville may erect a sign to that effect in the near future.

“I could definitely see myself putting that up next year,” he said.

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