As the growing season approaches, industry experts say Maine’s wild blueberry producers will likely have to slash production to keep the industry afloat. There’s been too much of a good thing, and prices are suffering.
Ninety-nine percent of Maine’s wild blueberry crop is sold frozen. Strong harvests over the last three growing cycles in Maine, coupled with record harvests in Canada, have contributed to a glut of berries on the market. Also, surplus yields of cultivated berries, which are usually sold fresh, have also wound up in the freezer case. Something will have to give, says Cooperative Extension wild blueberry specialist, David Yarborough.
“Growers are going to definitely have to make some reductions and changes,” says Yarborough,”because certainly you can’t go on very long spending more money than you’re making.”
The price per pound paid to growers has slid from $1.07 per pound in 2007 to 46 cents per pound in 2015. Maine's largest grower, Wyman’s, plans to cut back production acreage this year. And Yarborough says other growers will likely follow suit.
“There may be some fields that they allow to go fallow for a few years, or there may be some people that get out of production,” Yarborough says.
For consumers, he says, there’s never been a better time to buy the berries, which are plentiful, but he says market development is struggling to catch up to production.
Strategies for boosting the industry will be discussed at a trio of meetings later this month.