January 16, 2020
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Maine agriculture officials disappointed that feds denied aid for blueberry growers

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Sam Bentzinger, left, and Jake Bentzinger unload freshly picked wild blueberries at the Coastal Blueberry Service in Union, Aug. 24, 2018.

State agriculture officials said they are disappointed with a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to exclude Maine wild blueberries from a federal program designed to help growers negatively affected by retaliatory tariffs.

Nancy McBrady, director of the Maine Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, said she received a copy of the decision over the weekend.

“We believed that this program, in particular, would be very beneficial to Maine wild blueberry growers because, unlike other USDA assistance programs, this was one that would have directly provided a financial benefit to growers,” McBrady said.

[Maine blueberry industry could face another low harvest]

In the past, Maine’s wild blueberry industry has benefited from other programs, including the Section 32 bonus buy program, and McBrady said that appears to have been a factor in the USDA’s decision.

“The bonus buy program, while important in helping to reduce the overall supply of wild blueberries, which was quite high in the recent past, actually would only do that through the purchase of frozen wild blueberries from processors,” McBrady said. “So it was not a direct financial benefit to growers.”

McBrady said other fruits, such as cranberries, are now in the Marketing Facilitation Program, despite receiving other USDA benefits. She said it’s unclear why cranberries can participate in both, while wild blueberries cannot.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

Related: Migrant worker demonstrates how to rake blueberries


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