Blueberry growers forecast good season

Posted July 15, 2009, at 9:09 p.m.

JONESBORO, Maine — The wild turkeys crossing the road into a Machias wild blueberry barren was the first indication this week that the annual crop is beginning to ripen.

Despite weeks of rain — or possibly because of it — growers are forecasting a good to above-average blueberry season.

Carrol Wallace of Crawford said Wednesday that the berries on his 75 acres are “looking good” and that harvest should begin by the first of August.

Henry Mass of Liberty in Waldo County said his fields have the potential for a very good crop. “We had 6 to 7 inches of rain in June and 3 inches in July,” he said. “My main concern is whether the ground will dry out so it is firm enough for harvest. If the temperatures rise so the heat comes, we should see as good a year as last year.”

Last season was a banner year for Maine’s wild blueberry producers, with nearly 90 million pounds of berries harvested. Wild blueberries are a $250 million economic engine in Maine, most of it in Washington and Hancock counties.

Experts forecast Wednesday that this year’s crop, including harvests in Maine, Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, could top 240 million pounds. Maine’s share could approach 100 million pounds.

The industry provides 2,450 jobs and nearly $9 million in local and state tax revenues, according to figures supplied by the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

At the annual summer field day Wednesday at Blueberry Hill in Jonesboro, the University of Maine’s wild blueberry research station, the mood was high.

David Yarborough, the UM blueberry specialist, said this year had much better pollination than 2008, although the rains and cooler temperatures have affected the maturation of the crop and slowed the ripening.

There have been more disease symptoms as well, he said.

Tim Allen of Ellsworth reported he has a good crop with good pollination but his coastal fields don’t look as good as those inland.

Other producers reported difficulty in treating diseases and insects because whatever treatment they used washed right off the plants in the rain. One commented he had “a terribly good crop of weeds.”

Another producer reported having an average of 13 blossoms per bud, when the average is usually five or six.

Darren Hammond of Jasper Wyman & Son in Milbridge, the state’s largest blueberry producer, reported an average crop, but Dave Kilton of Machias said his crop should be better than average.

“I had really good pollination this year,” he said. “Of 28 days, there were only four when the bees didn’t work.”

Yarborough forecast an above-average crop.

“We had a wet fall and a mild winter with good snow cover, so very little winter injury has been seen,” he said. “Despite continued concerns on the bee decline, honeybees were available at a higher price.”

Yarborough said 66,000 bee hives were brought into the state to pollinate the berry bushes and initial weather was great for pollination.

bdnpittsfield@myfairpoint.net

255-0618

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