U.S. gov­ern­ment agrees to help Maine wild blue­berry in­dus­try

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY PA­TRICK WHIT­TLE

The U.S. gov­ern­ment is again try­ing to prop up the wild blue­berry in­dus­try in Maine, where sag­ging prices jeop­ar­dize one of the state’s long­est-stand­ing agri­cul­tural in­dus­tries.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has ap­proved up to $10 mil­lion to pur­chase sur­plus Maine blue­ber­ries, the mem­bers of Maine’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion said. Wild blue­ber­ries are one of the most im­por­tant crops in Maine, but the in­dus­try is strug­gling with a steep de­cline in the prices paid to farm­ers.

The in­dus­try is chal­lenged by over­sup­ply fol­low­ing years of big har­vests and com­pe­ti­tion from Canada, where the dol­lar is weaker.

“Maine wild blue­berry grow­ers are a re­silient group, but global sup­ply and pric­ing pres­sures are se­ri­ously im­pact­ing our busi­ness to­day,” said Roy Allen, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion grower and pro­ces­sor in Ellsworth.

The USDA’s pur­chase is the sec­ond of its kind in as many years. It al­lot­ted up to $13 mil­lion to buy sur­plus blue­ber­ries last year. The con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion said last week that the USDA’s pur­chase will hope­fully help farm­ers by sta­bi­liz­ing prices.

The del­e­ga­tion re­quested the USDA pur­chase berries ear­lier this year. The fruit will be dis­trib­uted to char­i­ta­ble groups like food banks.

“This in­vest­ment to al­le­vi­ate the sup­ply is­sue, com­bined with the in­dus­try’s ef­forts to boost de­mand, will help cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties for wild blue­berry grow­ers and sup­port a bright fu­ture for this unique Maine crop,” the del­e­ga­tion said in a state­ment.

The USDA has said grow­ers re­ceived 27 cents per pound for the blue­ber­ries last year, down 19 cents from 2015 and 33 cents from 2014. Wild blue­ber­ries are smaller than the more com­mon cul­ti­vated blue­ber­ries. The vast ma­jor­ity of the crop is frozen.

The in­dus­try and state of­fi­cials are col­lab­o­rat­ing to find new mar­kets for the blue­ber­ries to help with the over­sup­ply. The in­dus­try is look­ing to tar­get food ser­vice, res­tau­rant chains and food man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­nesses, said Nancy McBrady, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wild Blue­berry Com­mis­sion of Maine.

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