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Updated: December 5, 2019

King demands immediate relief for Maine blueberry farmers hurt by trade war

Close up photos of Maine wild blueberries File Photo Courtesy / Wyman's Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said the wild blueberry "has lost a piece of its future" as a result of the U.S. trade war with China, he argues in a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is demanding immediate federal relief for Maine wild blueberry farmers hurt by the trade war with China, repeating concerns he raised with other members of the state's Congressional delegation this summer.

"The wild blueberry, an iconic Maine agricultural product, has lost a piece of his future," King wrote in a Dec. 4 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

"Squarely to blame are the President's disastrous Chinese trade war and his farm bailout, which has favored some agricultural exports while leaving others — like wild blueberries — without support to find new markets," he continued, asking that wild blueberries be included in the Market Facilitation Program immediately to compensate producers.

He made the same plea on the U.S. Senate floor Thursday afternoon, arguing that the criteria for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Market Facilitation Program is still a gray area, and that it's not clear why some products are included and others such as blueberries are not.

"Just to put a fine point to it," he said, "if you're a wild blueberry harvester with a 100-acre farm, you get zip, zero, nada, zilch. If you're a cranberry farmer with a 100-acre bog, you get $61,000. How is that fair? How is the distinction made? That's the question that we're asking."

In his letter he noted that the  value of Maine blueberries exported to China has dropped from $2.5 million in 2017 to $61,000 this year as of September.

"If the trend continues through this month," he warned, "the President's trade war will lead to a 96.75% decrease in the value of my state's wild blueberry exports to China since 2017."

Maine lawmakers have also pleaded for relief for other agricultural products affected by the ongoing trade war with China. In June, they penned a letter to President Trump demanding financial assistance to lobster businesses. And in February, they wrote two letters urging the administration to prioritize lobster and potatoes in trade discussions.

King concludes his most recent missive with a plea to improve the business climate for Maine people who grow wild blueberries "and to fairly, transparently and rationally administer agricultural assistance programs meant to compensate producers for the trade war losses that this Administration has caused."

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