PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved spending $13 million to buy millions of pounds of surplus wild blueberries.
The four members of Maine’s congressional delegation Thursday announced approval of the USDA’s purchase of 30 million pounds of surplus blueberries.
In a joint statement, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, Angus King and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin said growers faced declining prices and increased competition last year because of record crop sizes in the past two years.
David Yarborough, a blueberry specialist with the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, was on vacation this week but said in January that the average prices for 2015 would likely be lower than the 60 cents per pound received the previous year.
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Maine’s Wild Blueberry Commission urged the purchase in a letter to the federal government in January. According to the Maine Cooperative Extension, blueberry production was up in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes in 2015.
Ed Flanagan, CEO of Wyman’s of Maine, said Friday he is “very grateful” to the USDA for agreeing to buy the surplus fruit and to the Wild Blueberry Commission for making the request.
“I think it can only help,” he said.
Though he would not say whether Wyman’s has a surplus, he said he believes all growers, including Wyman’s, should participate by offering berries for sale to the USDA.
“I think it’s important we show the USDA the good faith in return for what they’re offering,” he said.
The request for the purchase vied against other requests to tap a $222 million fund set aside for the federal Commodity Supplemental Food Program for fiscal year 2016. The program buys from producers faced with emergency surpluses in order to distribute to food assistance programs around the country.
BDN writer Johanna Billings contributed to this report.