Members of the agriculture industry and the state government of Maine fear losing blueberry farmers due to a drop in prices that had made harvesting the crop not the most reliable way to earn a living.
One of Maine’s biggest traditions is wild blueberries similar to its lighthouses and lobsters, but prices have plummeted from close to one dollar per pound 6 years ago to between 25 cents and 30 cents per pound in 2016.
The number of acres and farmers operating on those acres has held steady, but state officials have said that other measures show a drop in effort by farmers.
For instance, bees that farmers import to Maine pollinate their blueberry fields and the beehive count coming into Maine declined by 20% between 2015 and 2016, said a professor at a state university.
Members of the blueberry industry will likely see another high season of low prices and some farmers are not using the same amount of fields anticipating a tough summer season.
Republican Governor Paul LePage submitted a proposed state budget that would allocate state money in the amount of $2.5 million to market Maine agricultural products like blueberries.
Many politicians and members of the blueberry industry have said Maine must find more buyers for its blueberries in an attempt to spur on demand and buoy the price.
State officials have said that Hancock and Washington county wild blueberry farmers are seeing possible losses for the year of $70 million. Those two counties are the heart of Maine’s blueberry country.
Other members of Maine’s legislature said more needs to be done in promoting wild blueberry’s nutritional benefits.
The wild blueberry is a rich source of antioxidants, which have been proven scientifically to help protect the body from things such as cancer and other health risks related to age.
One reason there has been a drop in the price of blueberries causing less profit for the farmer is the boom in the blueberry harvest the past few years that led to a large surplus.
The wild blueberry crop in Maine during 2016 was better than was expected despite a drought in certain sectors of the agricultural land area in New England.
Maine produces more wild blueberries than any other state and last summer hits its average for the past five years of more than 93 million pounds.
Last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped by allotting $13 million to buy the surplus of blueberries in Maine to help stabilize the price.