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Massachusetts lawmakers seek federal help for cranberry farmers hurt by Chinese tariffs

A harvester corralled cranberries in Wareham.
A harvester corralled cranberries in Wareham.Charlie Mahoney for The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts lawmakers are asking the Trump administration to help cranberry farmers in the state and nationwide as they face major losses this year due to Chinese tariffs.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, along with Representatives Joseph P. Kennedy III and William Keating, who represent the state’s main cranberry growing areas, wrote last week to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, imploring him to “explore new markets” and “work creatively to help relieve the economic pressure faced by producers.” The letter comes as cranberry sauce takes its annual star turn as a staple of Thanksgiving dinners.

The Trump administration’s trade dispute with China has taken a toll on the already struggling American cranberry industry, with China slapping a 40 percent tariff on US cranberries. The US Agriculture Department recently estimated the industry’s losses at about $42.8 million this year because of the tariffs.

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The tariff hit comes amid a downward trend for cranberry prices, which have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past decade due to overproduction, the lawmakers wrote.

Those declines forced American growers to look to foreign markets to increase demand.

China appeared to be the solution. It became the world’s largest consumer of cranberries by 2018, and the US cranberry industry was able to increase its sales of dried cranberries tenfold over a five-year period. But the tariffs, put in place in response to US tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods, prompted consumers in China to turn away from American suppliers and toward more affordable alternatives, the lawmakers said.

Farmers have received some federal relief, and last year Massachusetts began offering stipends for growers to build solar panels over their bogs, but those “are not permanent solutions” to the industry’s troubles, the lawmakers wrote.

Though cranberry-growing is a $1.4 billion dollar industry in Massachusetts, the state has long been outpaced in production by Wisconsin. Now, Massachusetts growers face major competition from Canada, where the cranberry market in Quebec has exploded over the past several years.

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Ryan Wangman can be reached at ryan.wangman@globe.com.