Wild blueberries are an iconic food in Maine. Despite the products’ rich flavor and known health benefits, though, the industry has struggled to make inroads, especially compared to the bigger, more ubiquitous cultivated blueberries, which are commonly found in grocery store produce aisles around the country.
For the wild blueberry growers, researchers and industry professionals that convened at Hollywood Casino in Bangor for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Wild Blueberry Conference, many conversations centered around how to make wild blueberries stand out, especially compared to their low-bush counterparts, while keeping the crop efficient and competitive in light of the changing climate, pest and disease pressures.
Maine is the only state that commercially produces wild blueberries in the country. The crop has suffered from low yields in the past few years, though, and has struggled to contend with competition from less expensive Canadian-grown wild blueberries.
Then, there’s competition from cultivated blueberries. Eric Venturini, the recently-appointed executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, explained that, according to the International Blueberry Organization, production of high-bush blueberries around the world is increasing. Perhaps more concerningly, China has been planting “cultivated low bush” blueberries. Though they are currently used primarily for ornamental purposes, some of those varieties hail from the U.S. Department of Agriculture low-bush repository.