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Maine's blueberry growers face make-or-break point in the season with drought looming

Wild Blueberry Crop
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
FILE - In this July 30, 2015 file photo, a blueberry harvester makes its way through a field near Appleton, Maine.

With more than half of Maine experiencing moderate drought conditions, blueberry growers say this week may prove to be a make-or-break point for this year's crop.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency has activated the state's drought task force, as about half of Maine's counties are abnormally dry.

Rain is in the forecast for much of the state Monday night and into Tuesday morning.

Courtney Hammond with Lynch Hill Farms in Harrington said his blueberry crop isn't quite ripe yet, and some moisture would help the fruit swell up to the right size.

Washington County has gotten a few thunderstorms over the last few weeks, he said, but they've missed his farm.

Hammond said the rain last summer allowed for a near-record crop at the farm, and it helped the wild blueberries develop buds for this season.

"This year was looking like a near duplicate of last year with good pollination and weather," Hammond said. "We started off getting enough rain, but then in the last few weeks it's been hit or miss with thunder showers but not really sufficient to really help the crop along."

Hammond doesn't have an irrigation system, and without sufficient rain over the next four or five weeks, he fears this summer will be repeat of 2020, when drought wiped out nearly 80% of his blueberry crop compared to the previous year.

"If we have a dry year where we can't pack fresh or we can't get our crop in quick enough — and we're a relatively small grower — it could be devastating if we don't get the rain," he said.