Maine blueberry industry faces another potential low harvest

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2018, file photo, Sam Bentzinger, left, and Jake Bentzinger unload freshly picked wild blueberries at the Coastal Blueberry Service in Union, Maine A federal program designed to help farmers suffering due to trade disruption is unlikely to assist Maine's wild blueberry growers in 2019. Maine is the sole commercial producer of wild blueberries in the United States, and the industry has struggled in recent years with falling crop sizes and low prices to farmers. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Maine’s independent senator urged the U.S.Department of Agriculture to support his state’s blueberry and potato industries on Monday amid difficulty in the market.

Sen. Angus King said the industries that harvest the two crops are in trouble because of changes in market demand since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Maine is America’s sole wild blueberry growing state, and it’s also a major producer of potatoes.

The USDA should create economic relief programs tailored to the industries, King said. For example, the agency’s definition of “fresh products” should include fresh-frozen wild blueberries so the industry can be included in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, he said.

The industry could also consider loss of product sales in direct relief calculations for Maine potato farmers, King said.

Meanwhile, in Florida, it’s springtime, and in central Florida that ordinarily would mean blueberry picking at places like Southern Hill Farms.

But with new coronavirus fears keeping people under lockdown and social distancing, the 40-acre farm in Clermont, Fla., has had to make adjustments too this spring.

Customers are ordering their blueberries online and then picking them up by car instead of going in the fields themselves as they’ve done in seasons past.

Visitors also can buy sunflowers, sweet corn and peaches during spring.

Thousands of acres of fruits and vegetables grown in Florida are being plowed over or left to rot because farmers can’t sell to restaurants, theme parks or schools nationwide that have closed because of the coronavirus.

Other states are having the same issues.

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