The per pound price of Maine’s wild blueberries sank to its lowest point in more than three decades last year, as growers struggled with competition from cheaper Canadian producers and a thriving cultivated blueberry industry.

Maine berries fetched 26 cents per pound last year, the lowest price since 1985, according to University of Maine data. The estimated value of the harvest was $17.6 million, a 37 percent fall from 2016 and the lowest value in a decade, according to recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Growers harvested 67.8 million pounds of berries in 2017, a 33 percent drop from the year before and the smallest harvest since 2004.

The price collapse followed a decade of steadily growing yields in Maine and Canada that created oversupply in the market.

Maine produced more than 100 million pounds of berries a year between 2014 and 2016. The value of the harvest four years ago was $63.4 million.

“The issue really has been that we have had several good years of very high production,” said David Yarborough, a wild blueberry specialist with the University of Maine. “We are a victim of our own success. We were increasing productivity faster than the markets could bear the fruit, and we have competition that we haven’t had before.”

Maine growers face competition from cheaper Canadian wild berries and a booming cultivated blueberry industry.

Canada produced 206 million pounds of wild blueberries last year, about 21 percent of North American blueberry production, according University of Maine statistics. Maine, the only U.S. state that produces wild blueberries commercially, made up 7 percent of continental production.

The number of North American acres devoted to cultivated blueberries doubled in the last eight years, and the yield was about 691 million pounds in 2017, the National Blueberry Council reported.

Soaring demand for blueberries has encouraged year-round production of fresh berries in North and South America, said Nancy McBrady, executive director of the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission.

Cultivated blueberries are resilient to long-distance shipment and are primarily aimed for the fresh market, but with surging production more cultivated blueberries are ending up in the freezer aisle, historically the preserve of wild blueberries.

“What they can’t sell fresh is entering the freezer market,” McBrady said. “We are seeing competition in the freezer section we haven’t seen before.”

Maine’s blueberry industry should come through this year on better footing, McBrady added. The federal government has agreed to buy almost 9 million pounds, and limited production this year and last should get rid of the current oversupply, she said.

“I really think from a glut situation, we will have passed that coming into 2018,” she said. “With a reduced supply, we can hopefully see prices turn around and start to rise.”

But McBrady and Yarborough warned that the current downturn could drive some people out of the blueberry business altogether. The industry continues to aggressively market “the better blueberry” and tout its health and nutritional qualities.

“The industry is going to survive this, but it is going to look different,” McBrady said.

“The fields are still there, we have people who know how to do this, and we have an unbelievable product.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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