After a tough 2017, blueberry growers face a shaky start

ELLSWORTH — Blueberry production and values declined in 2017, and the coming season is not all that promising.

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, total production in 2017 dropped 33 percent from 2016 to 67.8 million pounds. Prices for processed berries declined slightly, from 27 cents per pound to 25 cents.

The production value in dollars from the 2017 harvest was $17.6 million, down 37 percent from the previous year.

“Weather during the [2017] pollination season was cold, wet and windy,” said David Yarborough, a wild blueberry specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

In addition to the weather, Yarborough pointed to a shortage of pollination and the presence of Mummy Berry disease as contributing factors to the decline in production. Mummy Berry is a fungal pathogen that kills blueberries, turning them into shriveled, hard shells. It appeared across Hancock and Washington counties last year.

The number of acres harvested declined to 17,000, down from 23,100 in 2016. Much of this was deliberate. Many growers withheld production in response to an overall glut in the market.

“Good years gave us too many berries,” Yarborough said.

Total production of blueberries in Maine hovered around 100 million pounds from 2014 to 2016. But with competition from Canadian wild blueberry growers, supply began to exceed demand and prices overall were depressed.

This summer, some 38,000 beehives were set up in the state, up from 27,000 last year. The effectiveness of that boost in pollination efforts is yet to be seen. With the 2018 harvesting season about to begin, Yarborough said production may still be down.

“There was a big frost in Nova Scotia, and in some of the northern townships in Maine,” he said. “We have to see how many of those acres can be salvaged.”

Maxwell Hauptman

Maxwell Hauptman

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Maxwell Hauptman joined The Ellsworth American as a reporter in 2018. He can be reached at [email protected]
Maxwell Hauptman

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