Maine agriculture officials are asking the federal government to help out wild blueberry growers as they deal with the effects of rising trade disputes with foreign countries.
In a letter sent to the USDA on Monday, Maine Agriculture Commissioner Amanda Beal says that Maine's wild blueberry growers should be included in a national program that provides direct aid to farmers — including soybean and cherry growers — whose industries have been hurt by federal trade conflicts.
Nancy McBrady, the director of the Department's Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, says that in 2017, the state exported almost 2 million pounds of blueberries to China. But she says that last year, that number fell drastically.
"So to have one door close, in a significant market with a lot of growth potential, like China, that is a hit,” McBrady says. “A long term hit that, those types of opportunities don't just grow on trees."
Greg Bridges, a blueberry grower in the Calais area, says federal assistance could make a difference for many local growers, who have struggled to stay afloat due to increased competition and declining prices.
"Anything right now could help farmers pay their bills. To try to either get out of the business. Or to move to a different market,” he says.
The USDA has assisted the industry in the past by purchasing surplus berries from the state.