CHERRYFIELD, Maine — Down East Maine is swimming in wild blueberries, as growers large and small report a plentiful crop as the annual harvest winds down.
“It’s been a good year, and we’ll go into September,” said David Yeattes, farm manager for Cherryfield Foods, which harvests 4,600 acres of berries in Washington County. “There was some heat stress on fields that were not irrigated, but overall we are seeing good yields.”
David Yarborough, wild blueberry specialist for University of Maine Extension, said he expects this year’s crop statewide will approach 100 million pounds. While that’s not a record crop, it’s up significantly from last year’s harvest of 83 million pounds.
“Yields have been higher on the coast than inland, ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 pounds per acre,” Yarborough said. “The barrens in Township 22 have had the best crop ever. The coastal areas have had more rain. The size of the berries have been quite variable. The rain plumps them right up, which increases the weight, which is great for growers who are selling berries to processors by the pound.”
Del Emerson is harvesting 20-plus acres of blueberries in Addison. Most growers sell their berries to processors who turn them into juice or ingredients for food products ranging from muffin mixes to snack bars. Emerson sells fresh berries through a co-op that provides berries that are ultimately sold frozen by the pint at supermarkets such as Hannaford.
“The quality is good this year,” he said. “Last year we had yields between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds per acre, and I expect we’ll get at least that this year. While the growers who sell to processors want more rain, I don’t. We have to have our berries dry to process them.”
Edward Hennessey Jr. and his three sons tend 300 acres of barrens in Jonesboro, just west of Machias. They also do contract harvesting for Cherryfield Foods.
“We have some beautiful fields this year,” said Hennessey, who is CEO of Machias Savings Bank but says he has been immersed in blueberry harvesting “all my life.”
Yarborough said he expects berries now being harvested for processing will command last year’s price of 90 cents a pound, or better.
“The yield in Quebec is down, as it is for cultivated berries in Michigan and the Pacific northwest,” he said. “Not everyone in Maine is having a bumper crop, and there may be some softening in price. It will depend on demand and what’s in inventory.”