Maine blue­berry har­vest down as in­dus­try looks for buy­ers

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - News - By Pa­trick Whit­tle

Maine’s wild blue­berry crop fell sharply this sum­mer to land below 100mil­lion pounds for the first time in four years, ac­cord­ing to a trade group that pro­motes the in­dus­try.

Pre­lim­i­nary in­dus­try fig­ures show the crop com­ing in at about 65 mil­lion pounds (29.5 mil­lion kilo­grams), Wild Blue­berry Com­mis­sion of Maine Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Nancy McBrady said. It’s more than enough for the state to re­main far and away the wild blue­berry cap­i­tal of the coun­try, but a sharp drop from re­cent years when the size of the crop soared and the price to farm­ers dwin­dled.

The crop is down be­cause of fac­tors in­clud­ing bad grow­ing con­di­tions, such as a lack of rain, and lack of farm­ing ef­fort, McBrady said. Sur­plus sup­plies of blue- berries from re­cent years and a re­sul­tant drop in prices to farm­ers have mo­ti­vated some grow­ers to scale back.

“It’s go­ing to be smaller,” she said. “Hav­ing a small sup­ply, hope­fully we can start to see more sta­ble prices in the fu­ture.”

Last year, the crop grew a lit­tle less than one per­cent to al­most 102 mil­lion pounds (46 mil­lion kilo­grams), while prices hit a 10-year low of 27 cents per pound to farm­ers. The drop in farm prices hasn’t sig­nif­i­cantly trick­led down to con­sumers, in part be­cause Maine isn’t the only source of the fruit. Can- ada is an­other ma­jor sup­plier of wild blue­ber­ries in the U.S.

Maine pro­duces about a tenth of the blue­ber­ries in North Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to the Univer­sity of Maine. The state is best known for wild blue­ber­ries, which are smaller than cul­ti­vated blue­ber­ries and are al­most al­ways sold frozen.

Maine’s in­dus­try has been look­ing for new buy­ers to help drive up de­mand for the blue­ber­ries and im­prove prices. It re­cently found one such new buyer when Oakhurst Dairy, a ma­jor player in New Eng­land food that is based in Port­land, an­nounced it plans to be­gin is­su­ing wild blue­berry milk in the spring.

The com­pany chose to make milk fla­vored with blue­ber­ries after the con­cept won a so­cial me­dia con­test with con­sumers, said Jim Lesser, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing for Oakhurst.

“This has more to do with what con­sumers want. It just hap­pens to be good for Maine’s blue­berry in­dus­try,” he said.

ROBERT F. BUKATY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

In this Fri­day file photo, work­ers har­vest wild blue­ber­ries at the Ridge­berry Farm in Ap­ple­ton, Maine. A trade group said the state’s wild blue­berry crop fell sharply dur­ing the sum­mer of 2017, to land below 100mil­lion pounds for the first time in four years.

ROBERT F. BUKATY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

In this file photo, wild blue­ber­ries await har­vest­ing in War­ren, Maine. A trade group said the state’s wild blue­berry crop fell sharply dur­ing the sum­mer of 2017, to land below 100mil­lion pounds for the first time in four years.

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