Climate Change Threatens Maine’s Wild Blueberries 

Photo: University of Maine

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Maine’s wild blueberries may be in trouble. Scientists at the University of Maine have found that the state’s blueberry fields are warming at a much faster rate than the rest of New England. This could dry out the soil, threatening the beloved berries and the farmers who grow them. The team analyzed 40 years of annual data for maximum, minimum, and average temperature and precipitation for 26 wild blueberry fields. They found that the state increased in average temperature by just less than two degrees Fahrenheit, while the states’ blueberry fields increased by 2.34 degrees. 

Why this Matters: Wild blueberries are much smaller than their domestic counterparts, and are frozen for use in smoothies or other processed food products. Having a surplus of antioxidants, they’re widely considered to be a “superfood,” and Maine is the only state in the US that produces them commercially.  The blueberry sector contributes around $250 million in direct and indirect economic activity to Maine annually, but that has been dwindling as of late. Farmers produced 47.4 million pounds of Maine wild blueberries last year, and that was the lowest number since 2004. Losing this crop would be a huge financial toll on the state, and the wild blueberry would join other native fruits like salmonberries and ground cherries that are also under threat due to climate change. 

Feeling Blue About Blueberries?

What the scientists found was that even a small temperature difference is significant because rising temperatures that lead to water deficits would put the blueberries at risk, according to Rafa Tasnim, of the University of Maine, who was the study’s lead author. Lack of water could result in smaller crop sizes and blueberries that are less likely to survive to be harvested.  “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,” Tasnim told the Associated Press, who led the research team that published the study. “What that will mean for the wild blueberry plants is they will be water-stressed.”  The good news is that growers of wild blueberries can find a way to mitigate crop production and prepare for future warming, through irrigation and fertilizer use. Farmers could also use remote sensing technology that helps farmers spot areas in a blueberry field that need water and help growers identify insufficient water supplies and evaluate the need for irrigation. “With increasing temperatures, that will probably be the trend into the future,” David Yarborough, emeritus professor of horticulture with the University of Maine, told the AP. “What we’re going to do about it is a good question,” he said.

Up Next

2020 Derecho Cost Iowa’s Farmers Hundreds of Millions

2020 Derecho Cost Iowa’s Farmers Hundreds of Millions

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer According to a new report from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the derecho and drought that hit Iowa last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans and pastures. While crop insurance covered nearly $560 million of the losses, farmers had to pay another $243 million out of pocket. According […]

Continue Reading 396 words
It’s Not So Simple: Debunking 5 Myths about Healthy and Sustainable Diets

It’s Not So Simple: Debunking 5 Myths about Healthy and Sustainable Diets

by Brent Loken, Global Lead Food Scientist, World Wildlife Fund There are few things more confusing than deciding which diet is best for people and planet. The internet is rife with hyperbolic headlines, oversimplified solutions, and heavily promoted remedies, all of which stoke division and squash good old common sense. Yes, eating in a healthy […]

Continue Reading 1231 words
Climate and COVID Are Increasing Indigenous Food Insecurity

Climate and COVID Are Increasing Indigenous Food Insecurity

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on BIPOC communities’ systemic lack of access to healthcare and the role that environmental injustice plays in health outcomes. Now, it’s shining a light on food insecurity in some of North America’s most remote regions. Canadian non-profit Mikinakoos Children’s Fund found that the cost of getting […]

Continue Reading 523 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.