Think of Maine-grown foods, and two probably spring to mind: lobster and potatoes. And aside from the fact that they pair well on a dinner plate, you wouldn’t be wrong in connecting them as the state’s two most economically important food products. Sometimes the obvious answer is the right one.
But there’s more to the Maine-grown brand than crustaceans and tubers. Let’s see how the top five local foods stack up in importance:
#1: Potatoes: Although Maine potato growers are currently experiencing hard times due to slow demand from major food processors, they still beat out lobster by dollar value (by a hair) and by pounds (by an order of magnitude). With some 57,000 acres under cultivation (90 percent of it in Aroostook County), the state produces more than 1.5 billion pounds (that’s 783,750 tons) of potatoes annually, worth more than $500 million.
#2: Lobster: The lobster take, by contrast, is a mere 120 million pounds. But since potatoes sell for pennies to the pound, and lobster goes for several dollars, the value of Maine lobster is a none-too-shabby $457 million annually – nearly as much as the potato harvest. And while Maine has dropped far down the list of the nation’s biggest potato growers, we’re far and away No. 1 when it comes to lobster.
#3: Blueberries: Shockingly, Maine hasn’t designated an official state entrée or an official side dish. If it had, those titles would surely be held by lobster and potato. The wild blueberry, however, is the official State Fruit, and wild blueberry pie is the State Dessert. Nationally, wild or low-bush blueberry production pales next to the crop of domesticated or high-bush blueberries, but Maine ranks supreme among the wild ones, growing up to 90 million pounds annually, worth more than $67 million. The vast majority of Maine blueberries are not eaten fresh, but instead are sold to food processors who turn them into preserves, pie filling, flavorings and the like.
#4: Maple syrup: Next up is maple syrup, which supports some 500 full- and part-time jobs and generates sales of $27.7 million per year, more than 90 percent of which leaves the state in industrial-size drums.
#5: Clams: Lobsters, of course, aren’t the only marine animal we export. Due to the recent crash in elver prices, soft-shell clams have returned to Maine’s Top Five. The 2013 clam harvest was 9.7 million pounds, worth over $19 million. And while we’re talking about mollusks, let’s mention scallops too. Although the 2013 scallop catch, at less than 600,000 pounds, was a mere 6 percent of the clam harvest, its value was $7.4 million, or 39 percent of the value of its poorer shellfish cousin.