Love the juicy pop of flavor in wild blueberries? Thank growers in Maine. Maine is the leading producer of lowbush or wild blueberries. Lowbush blueberries are native to northern New England and Atlantic Canada. Almost 500 farmers manage 36,000 acres of commercial wild blueberry land in Maine.
According to USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, wild blueberry production for Maine in 2021 totaled 105 million pounds, up significantly from 2020. Yield per acre was up significantly as well. In 2021, the average yield was 5,000 pounds per acre, up 2,710 pounds from the previous year. The crop’s total value topped $80 million with an average price of 76.6 cents per pound.
Wild blueberries are different physically from other blueberries, and that affects post-harvest handling of the fruit. Wild blueberries tend to be smaller with thinner skins than other species, and each pint of harvested berries will have a range of ripeness.
The University of Maine Wild Blueberry Extension Program is working to reach both organic and conventional wild blueberry producers with ways to improve the shelf life and quality of their harvests. A grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) is supporting Maine Extension’s efforts. Funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, SARE offers grants to farmers, ranchers, educators, researchers, graduate students and others for on-farm research, education, and professional and community development.
University of Maine Extension is conducting on-farm research to identify the ideal storage temperature for fresh wild blueberries on small farms where only one cooling step is feasible. They found that managing relative humidity and air movement inside cold storage rooms is necessary to achieve high-quality berries. Additionally, the researchers found that while cooling to lower temperatures (such as 34°F and 40°F) will cost more than cooling to higher temperatures (such as 50°F), the improved length of shelf life and resulting high-quality berries will likely justify the additional expense.
Farmers have learned about the research at a variety of events, including the 2021 Summer UMaine Blueberry Hill Farm Day and the 2021 UMaine Wild Blueberry Conference. Other resources including factsheets, webinars and a monthly newsletter, as well as talks at a variety of farmer workshops and conferences, are helping ensure farmers are learning how to adapt their management practices to extend the shelf life of their berries.
Read more about Improving Shelf Life of Fresh Pack Maine Wild Blueberries.
Photo: Left image of farmer carrying a crate of freshly picked blueberries. Right image of blueberries in a basket. Both images courtesy of Adobe Stock.