Maine blueberries and the farmers who harvest them could be some of the latest victims of climate change. Scientists from the University of Maine have published a new study that found blueberry fields are warming faster than the rest of the state.
Forty years of data show that Maine has gotten about 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.98 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer in that time overall. But Down East Maine, home of the state’s famous wild blueberry fields, has increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.34 degrees Fahrenheit). This could cause water deficits, driving down crop sizes and leading to blueberries that don’t survive until harvest time.
“What we are expecting is the temperature is going to increase a lot and we will not get as much rainfall in the summertime especially,” said Rafa Tasnim, as reported by Associated Press. Tasnim is a University of Maine doctoral candidate in ecology and environmental science and leader of the new study’s research team. “What that will mean for the wild blueberry plants is they will be water stressed.”
Maine is the only state where wild blueberries are produced commercially. Producers claim that wild Maine blueberries have a more intense taste, more antioxidants and are frozen at peak freshness, while ordinary blueberries are less flavorful and picked before they fully ripen.
The Maine blueberry industry was already struggling from droughts and market fluctuations. Last year, Maine farmers produced only 47.4 million pounds of wild blueberries, the smallest amount since 2004.
Fortunately, the study authors didn’t condemn us to a life of barren pancakes. They suggested strategies for blueberry growers to increase output despite climate change, such as better fertilizer use and improved irrigation.
“We are actively engaged in finding out how climate change is impacting our industry and finding solutions to it,” said Eric Venturini, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine. “Climate change definitely poses challenge to wild blueberry farms in Maine.”
Not only are wild blueberries important to Maine’s economy but also for the state’s image. Blueberry is the official state berry as well as the key ingredient in blueberry pie, the state dessert. Many Maine communities hold blueberry festivals in August.
Via AP News
Image via Meadowphoto