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Lack of Rain Has Some Blueberry Growers Feeling the Heat

Written by  Steve Fuller and Jacqueline Weaver Tuesday, September 04, 2012 at 2:21 pm

ELLSWORTH — In a summer where rain was something of a rarity, blueberry growers who used irrigation systems were less bothered by the dry spell than those who relied on Mother Nature.

David Yarborough, wild blueberry specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said the blueberry harvest ended earlier this year for those growers without irrigation systems.

“Some fields have been very, very good and others have not been so good,” he said, adding that in some of the drier areas without irrigation growers saw berries begin to shrivel up for lack of moisture.

Albert Lounders, who oversees 80 acres of blueberry fields, said he and his family felt the effect of a wet, cold spring followed by the hot and dry months of June, July and August.

On Sept. 4, Lounders and his family were wrapping up this year’s season and getting ready for next year’s — he was out in the fields on his tractor, working to keep weeds down among the blueberry bushes.

Lounders agreed with Yarborough’s assessment on irrigation, noting that those who had such systems got a “big boost during the dry spell.”

Yarborough said in addition to the end of the harvest, the size of the berries themselves was affected by the lack of any significant precipitation.

“It does appear the fruit size is smaller and definitely the lack of rain is probably affecting it,” he said. “It depends on when they got their last rainfall and how sandy their soil is.”

Lounders said his harvest this year was “slightly below average” due to the dry summer, but Yarborough said the overall blueberry crop still appears to be about 10 to 15 percent larger than last year and that there appears to be more fruit on the bushes.

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