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Updated: April 24, 2023

Wyman's seeks to 'tame' wild blueberries in groundbreaking study

tractor people garden Courtesy / University of Maine Transplanting blueberries at the University of Maine’s Wyman’s Wild Blueberry Research and Innovation Center.

In a rare move, earlier this month pallet-sized mats of wild blueberry thatch took a 52-mile trip to Wyman’s Wild Blueberry Research and Innovation Center — a first-of-its-kind 3-acre research and education facility at a University of Maine site in Old Town.

A gift from Wyman’s, a Milbridge-based producer of wild blueberry products, to the University of Maine Foundation provided for the construction of the site. The milestone in the center’s development follows years of preparations and is designed to create new research opportunities for faculty and students. 

Transplanting parent wild blueberry plants is uncommon because commercially-grown lowbush blueberries are cultivated in their natural environment, as they readily spring from the gravelly, acidic soils left by melting glaciers on their own. 

To ensure the berries would thrive in the transplant process, the team at Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, which manages UMaine’s research farm network, had to re-create Maine’s blueberry barrens in highly controlled raised beds. 

They also had to account for the crop’s rich genetic diversity. The plants were carefully selected and genotyped to ensure each patch of thatch grew from a single-origin plant. The genetic precision is a first for wild blueberry research, akin to approaches traditionally used for orchards or row crops. 

The center is near the UMaine campus so that the research can be frequently managed and monitored. The location will also facilitate new opportunities for students to engage in the project, which is expected to streamline the workforce pipeline for one of Maine’s top food commodities.

The center’s raised beds range from 36 square feet to 144 square feet and will allow researchers to control for precipitation, temperature and plant genetics so they can study wild blueberries with a precision that the center said is unprecedented. 

The research at the Old Town center complements commercial-scale field research at Wyman’s Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro and on growing operations of all sizes across the growing region. 

In time, the research is expected to improve predictions about how the berries respond to field conditions, and ultimately to refine crop production techniques that benefit growers, consumers and the environment.  

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