June 24, 2018
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Maine farmers hope wild blueberry crop will command higher prices

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — Geography and timing played key roles this year in the success — or failure — of Maine’s blueberry harvest.

If blueberries were in blossom when this year’s wet, cold spring struck, producers are reporting a crop less than half the size of last year’s. If the blossoms already had faded, that same rain was beneficial.

At the Passamaquoddy Tribe-owned Northeastern Blueberry Co., based in Columbia Falls, field supervisor Jeramy Wentzell said last week that the harvest was going well but what was most surprising was that it was still going. “This has been a long harvest for us,” Wentzell said. “We would usually have been done a week ago.”

Wentzell said that some of his workers had to return to college and school before the harvest ended. “That set us back a little bit but we’ll be fine.”

Wentzell said that a wet spring likely helped the company’s berries. “There are more berries and they are a bit bigger than usual,” he said. A dry July did not hurt the company’s 1,000 acres of blueberries, he said, since more than 700 acres are fully irrigated.

The story was just the opposite at Allen’s Wild Blueberries in Blue Hill. Annie Allen said the harvest on Allen’s 600 acres is all wrapped up and was off by at least a third and possibly a half.

“It was all due to poor pollination,” Allen said. Wet, damp, cold weather struck just as the blueberries were blossoming. “Honeybees won’t fly in that kind of weather,” she said.

Allen said prices are based on the world market and hopefully the poor season that cultivated blueberry growers had in Michigan and New Jersey will help raise wild blueberry prices.

“It looks like Maine will be at average or below. Nova Scotia is similar, and Quebec is sitting on a pretty good crop,” Allen said. “Hopefully that will push the prices up.”

Maine’s blueberry crop has an annual value of about $190 million, according to state agriculture officials, and an overall state economic impact of more than $250 million.

Jasper Wyman and Sons, based in Milbridge, is the world’s largest producer of wild blueberries with more than 8,000 acres in production. President Edward Flanagan said last week that he is seeing a pretty good crop.

“We got good pollination and the rains, when they came, were timely,” Flanagan said. When the month of July saw less than an inch of rain, irrigation paid off, he said. One inch of rain per week is the optimal rainfall but Flanagan said the season didn’t quite happen that way.

“We have growers from Knox County to Calais and things are looking good,” he said.

Because Quebec had a crop failure last year and those supplies were met by Maine producers, along with the low harvest of cultivated blueberries, Flanagan said most Maine producers went into this season with no leftover inventory. “That tends to firm the market,” he said.

The fact that the U.S. dollar is struggling in value also helps blueberry sellers. Flanagan estimated that berries will go for $2 a pound, which is about 40 to 50 cents higher than last year.

“All in all, it was a good year for both growers and processors,” he said.

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