A $20 million cranberry processing facility has opened near Warrens.

Local and state officials, including Gov. Scott Walker, were on hand for Cranberry Growers Cooperative’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, where they celebrated its impact to independent growers and Wisconsin’s economy.

“What a pleasure it is to be here today,” said Walker, who shared stories of his own love of cranberry juice. “Cranberries are a key part of our state’s economy.

“Today, this is really what it’s about – it’s about the future.”

The plant, also referred to as CranGrow, is the result of a vision of independent growers and is used to process member fruit into a variety of cranberry products, including dried cranberries, juice concentrate, whole frozen berries and cranberry seed pomace at its Aspen Avenue site in the town of Lincoln.

The operation is believed to be the largest independent co-op in the world with its 30 family-owned cranberry farms that supply fruit to CranGrow, which got work under way just days ago by processing berries from 2015’s crop. This year’s fall harvest will begin processing this winter.

“Today is our day,” said Fred Prehn, a member who has a 160-acre cranberry farm outside of Tomah. “Today, let’s reflect on what we’ve accomplished.”

CranGrow has 50 employees and will have the ability to expand to double its workforce as production moves forward. Officials also thanked the village of Warrens, which was granted permission by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to sell water to the plant despite being outside of its normal utility service area.

The facility will work to distribute its products to areas of the country that don’t have ready access to cranberries, and it also will expand its reach to 30 countries across the world.

“We’re looking to reach where people should have the opportunity to (have) cranberries but don’t,” said Jim Reed, CranGrow’s CEO, who started in his position in April. “This is an amazing deal.”

Sean Duffy, who represents Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, praised the co-op members for their efforts to launch the facility, an endeavor he noted didn’t require government assistance or funding.

“This is a great day,” said Duffy, whose district includes a portion of northern Monroe County. “This is how it’s done. This is fantastic.”

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