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December 12, 2017

With more blueberry growers in the red, some are selling their barrens

Photo / Ted Axelrod, axelrodphotography.com
Photo / Ted Axelrod, axelrodphotography.com
Maine's wild blueberry harvests of up to 100 million pounds a year represent a $250 million industry, according to the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine. But prices have plummeted, causing some Maine growers to sell their barrens.

Although there was a slight turnaround this year in the price of blueberries, it wasn't enough to allow growers to make a profit. That's causing some growers to decide to sell their barrens, according to the Ellsworth American.

In 2012, farmers received 76 cents per pound. In 2016, it was 27 cents. For 2017, some growers received 35 cents. Dave Yarborough, the wild blueberry specialist for the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension told the Ellsworth newspaper that most growers make money on their fields only when the price exceeds 45 cents. Many growers in Hancock and Washington counties left portions or entire fields un-raked this year.

Blueberry grower Jack Schmelzer decided to try to sell his 15 acres, overlooking Mount Desert Narrows, several years ago, but was unsuccessful.

Marie Emerson, who runs the Columbia Falls-based Wild Blueberry Land with her husband, told the newspaper that three growers in one week said they were trying to sell their land.

The issue, said Yarborough, is that some large producers that previously accepted berries from smaller growers have decided to contract and rely more on their own fields. That means larger producers have not been renewing contracts with smaller growers.

"There's only so much of a market for fresh berries," Yarborough said.

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