JONESBORO — This year’s wild blueberry crop got a boost from the weather in August.
David Yarborough, emeritus wild blueberry specialist with the University of Maine, said the predicted yield is up from forecasts earlier in the season, thanks in part to cooler temperatures and thunderstorms in August.
Earlier this season, the predictions stood at 50 million to 55 million pounds being produced statewide. However, now those predictions have risen to 60 million to 65 million pounds. What the yield will actually be, however, is unknown.
“We never really know until we tally them all up,” Yarborough said, adding this year’s exact figures will be available early next year.
Last year, growers raised only 50.4 million pounds, which Yarborough described as “an unusually small crop,” especially when considering that, historically, crop totals have been more than 100 million pounds.
The biggest factor in last year’s low yield was a freeze in June.
This year, the weather also played a significant role. Over the winter, many plants experienced what is known as winter kill — the stems sticking up from the plants freeze and die, killing any existing buds and preventing the production of new ones.
“If those buds get killed, no buds,” Yarborough said. “You’ve killed the reproductivity of the plant.”
Under normal conditions, the plants would be under a foot of snow, which would provide insulation and prevent winter kill. This past winter, however, snow melted and was often followed by ice, which does not provide the same insulation.
The growing season itself got off to a slow start because of cold, rainy weather in the spring The pollinators weren’t quite as efficient because of colder temperatures. As a result, the blueberries will be smaller than usual, Yarborough said.
July was hot and dry but temperatures cooled in August and it rained, both of which are good for the crop, he said. Had it continued to be dry, there would have been fewer berries.
Cooler temperatures are actually more important than the rain, especially when rainfall is heavy.
“The sandy soil only holds a half inch or so,” Yarborough said, adding that heavy rain just puddles.
The late spring caused the start of the harvest to be about a week late. Harvesting began at the end of July on the Midcoast but not until the second week of August in the Downeast region. The harvest is expected to run a little later than usual, too.
Yarborough said prices appear to be increasing, with growers getting about 46 cents a pound, up from last year’s 26 cents a pound. However, overall prices are still speculative at this point.
“It really depends on how many berries are produced in Canada as well,” he said. “Nobody really knows what [the price] is going to be until they get a check in the mail.”