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July 9, 2018

As blueberry harvest begins, outcome uncertain

Photo / Ted Axelrod, 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.

With the harvest of Maine’s wild blueberry crop about to begin, it’s unclear if it will rebound from last year’s depressed market for the berries.

In 2017, the Ellsworth American reported, a combination of poor growing conditions and a glut from the previous season resulted in a 33% drop in production from 2016, to 67.8 million pounds, and a 37% drop in the harvest’s value, to $17.6 million.

Recent weather in northern Maine could hurt this year’s harvest, according to David Yarborough, a wild blueberry specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“There was a big frost in Nova Scotia, and in some of the northern townships in Maine,” he told the American. “We have to see how many of those acres can be salvaged.”

Maine is the world's top producer of wild blueberries, at up to 100 million pounds a year, which brings $250 million into the state, according to the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

Wild, or low-bush, berries are smaller, tarter and darker-colored the high-bush blueberries cultivated in states such as Washington, Georgia and New Jersey. Unlike their cultivated cousins, wild berries are typically frozen after harvest.

In 2017, cold, wet weather hampered pollination of the crop, according to Yarborough, and it was also affected by a fungal disease. In addition, many growers limited the production of berries because of the abundance of the fruit, much of it from Canada. After harvesting 23,100 acres in 2016, Maine growers harvested 17,000.

This year, they’ve increased efforts to pollinate the berries, using 38,000 beehives, up from 27,000 in 2016.

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