2014 Wild Blueberry Harvest BeginsDespite late spring, weather and growing conditions are favorable
OLD TOWN, MAINE — August 5, 2014 —The Wild Blueberry Association of North America announced today that the 2014 Wild Blueberry harvest is on track to yield high quality, flavorful berries assuming favorable weather conditions continue through August. “Although we had a late start to the season, we’ve had plenty of rainfall,” said David Yarborough, professor of horticulture at the University of Maine and wild blueberry specialist with Cooperative Extension. “Wild Blueberries like cool, wet weather, so growing conditions have been fairly optimal,” he said. “However, we all know that Mother Nature has the final say and we can’t count our berries until they are in the box.” The Wild Blueberry harvest got underway in Downeast Maine in late July.
Maine is the largest producer of Wild Blueberries in the world and, according to a 2009 study conducted by Planning Decisions, Inc., the economic impact of the Maine Wild Blueberry harvest is substantial in Maine, providing:
· $173 million in direct sales;
· 2,500 jobs in Maine’s most economically challenged Downeast region;
· $63 million annual payroll;
· and potential for a $400-$500 million annual impact over the next decade.
Wild Blueberries are harvested commercially only in Maine, Eastern Canada and Quebec. They occur naturally in barrens and fields that have been here for 10,000 years, according to Yarborough. “They were here before man arrived and they likely will be here after we are gone,” he says. As a result, they are perfectly adapted to the environment where they grow and provide the basis for long-term, sustainable management.
Although the crop is wild, growers of Wild Blueberries have invested substantially in research, innovation, and growing practices that have increased yield over the decades. The Wild Blueberry crop size has more than quadrupled since 1980, from 20 million pounds to an average 86 million pounds.
Wild vs. Regular
The differences between Wild Blueberries and their regular (cultivated) cousins are significant and range from natural environmental adaptation to health advantages, notes Yarborough. A few critical advantages include:
· Wild Blueberries survive in the glacial soils and they thrive in the cold, harsh climate. These temperatures have the benefit of naturally reducing insects and pests. As you move south into hotter regions where many other fruit crops are grown, there is an increase in pest pressures that farmers are forced to deal with.
· Because Wild Blueberry fields are harvested every other year, the two-year cropping cycle helps to break pest cycles, whereas most other perennial fruit crops are harvested every year.
· Wild Blueberries have a higher concentration of the flavonoid anthocyanin, a phytochemical found in blue-pigmented fruit. So when you eat Wild Blueberries, you gain extra antioxidant protection.
· Wild Blueberries have a higher skin-to-pulp ratio than their larger cultivated counterparts. More skin and less water equal more antioxidant-rich pigment and more blueberry flavor.
· Diversity is the key to nature and Wild Blueberries are diversity superstars. In fact, because the plants naturally establish by themselves, any given Wild Blueberry field can support literally hundreds of thousands of different plants, as compared to regular blueberries, which might host a half-dozen varieties in one growing area. Maine’s Wild Blueberry fields host a mixture of literally thousands of varieties of dark and light berries. This diversity is what gives Wild Blueberries that complex and delicious flavor.
· Extensive research is revealing just how much Wild Blueberries can improve human health. Findings suggest that the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, other properties of Wild Blueberries contribute to better brain health, cancer prevention, gut health, heart health, reduced risk of diabetes, and increased urinary tract health. To read about the dozens of health studies that have been conducted visit: https://www.wildblueberries.com/health-research/research/.
Locking in freshness – an emerging awareness
Extensive research on the benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables that are frozen at the height of freshness has created a new awareness about the advantages of choosing frozen over imported fresh foods. In fact, research conducted by the USDA confirms that frozen fruits have the same or greater nutritional value as their fresh counterparts. And the benefits of choosing frozen don’t stop there. For one, frozen Wild Blueberries are often cheaper than imported fresh berries. Second, imported berries are often picked prematurely, before they fully ripen, so they can endure long journeys and transportation delays. Finally, when consumers choose fresh frozen Wild Blueberries they are directly supporting a rural way of life in Eastern Maine and Canada that has been in place for hundreds of years.