US: Hot and dry July diminishes Maine blueberry yields

For the state of Maine, drought conditions combined with COVID precautions have reduced yields for many producers, both locally and statewide.

For the US, a significant amount of blueberries originate from Maine producers. While many of the larger tracts are located further down east, the Blue Hill Peninsula maintains a long tradition of blueberry cultivation, using both conventional and organic methods of production. According to statistics from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, in 2018 some 50 million pounds of blueberries were harvested throughout the state from approximately 18,800 acres.

Nicolas Lindholm, owner of Blue Hill Berry Company, is an organic producer based in North Penobscot. His eight fields, which he either owns or leases, span five towns and are certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Lindholm markets most of his berries directly to consumers and through farmers markets and private orders, and sells some wholesale to freezers such as Merrill’s Freezer in Ellsworth. But this year was anything but typical.

At the outset, COVID-19 required major adjustments to the structure of the season. Lindholm had the Maine Mobile Health Clinic test every worker for the virus and instituted a daily screening regimen to monitor everyone’s health. All this preparation necessitated what Lindholm described as “a planned reduction in what we can do.”

This was then followed by the drought. A series of 80-degree days in mid-July “pushed the crop along dramatically fast,” to the point where, Lindholm said, “the last week in July [the berries] looked like the last week in September.” reports that, despite the setbacks, Lindholm spoke of strong market sales. Ultimately, Lindholm echoed what many local people connected with the land have noticed—the increasing unpredictability of the weather and changing seasonal patterns due to human-caused climate change.

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