Tyler Bridges dumps blueberries into a wooden crate as he rakes blueberries in a field in Crawford in 2018. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The size of Maine’s wild blueberry harvest dropped by 26%, or 27.5 million pounds, in 2022 after hitting a near-record harvest the previous year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data released Monday.

Last year’s crop was valued at $55.5 million, down from $80.3 million in 2021.

The downturn came after experts in May 2022 said the coming season would have similar results to the 2021 bounty of 105 million pounds. But last year’s output was 77.5 million pounds due to what growers and experts said was a perfect mix of poor weather conditions.

The downturn reflects the ways that growing wild blueberries, a crop that is especially dependent on weather, is becoming increasingly difficult amid climate change trends that include more droughts, changing weather patterns and the disappearance of pollinators like honey bees.

“With wild blueberries, that variability is much greater, so the risk is much greater … we’re really at the mercy of Mother Nature,” said David Yarborough, a former wild blueberry specialist at the University of Maine. “(Legislation to support the industry) would help extend the life of the small family farms.”



Maine is one of the world’s hubs for wild blueberries and the only U.S. state where they are commercially harvested. In 2000, Maine hit its all-time production peak of 110 million pounds of the fruit. But the state has experienced increasingly wide fluctuations in its harvest since the start of the 21st century.

Last year was another of those swings.

Ron Howard, the farm manager for Brodis Blueberries in Hope, said the state had a cold, rainy May (when sunny days are needed for pollination) and a dry summer (when adequate rainfall is needed for that final push to harvest).

“A lot of different things come into play,” Howard said.

That drought hit midcoast Maine especially hard, said Eric Venturini of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

As a result, Howard said the farm’s blueberry production was down 30%. Last year, Howard told the Press Herald the farm’s 2021 production was up by the same percentage.


Of course, all crops depend on weather conditions. But growers face particular challenges with wild blueberries in part because of the crop’s two-season cycle. In year one, wild blueberries grow vines that produce the berries in year two.

“A blueberry is like a slot machine, it has to come up all … perfect growing conditions … to hit the jackpot,” Yarborough said.

Those perfect weather conditions are becoming harder to find. Maine has experienced periodic droughts for the last 10 years. But in the summer of 2020, the droughts reached the USDA’s most intense category across the state and that has continued to persist. Those droughts also have lead to a decline in native bee species, which are critical to the start of the wild blueberry season.


As a result, growers have to find workarounds. Farms can purchase irrigation systems and bee colonies to reproduce those conditions. The Passamaquoddy Wild Blueberry Co., one of the state’s largest farms, has had irrigation systems since at least the ’90s, according to President Brian “Buck” Altvater. But Brodis Blueberries just got its first efficient irrigation system last year, Howard said.

That’s in part because irrigation systems are a significant expense that can be a challenge for growers with a small operation.


“You’ve got to have yields high enough that you can pay for those inputs and make that happen and pay off,” said Yarborough, adding that the systems are a “long-term investment” that can be hard to pay off in years when the price of blueberries is lower.

Smaller wild blueberry growers have been disappearing since the last century, and that attrition could accelerate if the current climate trends continue, Yarborough said.

That’s where the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine comes in. It has been lobbying for state and federal aid that would “increase opportunities and improve opportunities for farmers to access support for sustainable irrigation,” Venturini said.

“(We’ve) encouraged the Legislature to fund an infrastructure grant system to help farmers throughout Maine with their infrastructure needs,” said Howard, who also serves on some of the commission’s committees. “We’re also doing a lot of work with the University of Maine and cooperative extension on studying wild blueberries and methods to retain moisture better, better understand exactly how much moisture they need.”

At the federal level, Maine’s four members of Congress also are leading an effort to “expand markets for Maine blueberries and reduce barriers facing farmers.” Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden are encouraging the Biden administration to work with Japan to lift tariffs on frozen blueberries.

“Doing so will allow U.S. farmers to compete on level terms with other blueberry exporting countries and would help save and revitalize market opportunities for U.S. berry farmers,” they wrote in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

Yarborough said a warmer climate will inevitably push wild blueberry growth out of Maine and north into Canada in the next 100 years. But Venturini is optimistic.

“I think the future for this industry is actually very bright. Some of these opportunities for producers to gain access to capital, invest in  their businesses to increase to become viable and economically sustainable … would really go a long way,” he said.

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