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Originally published in Compass, August 22, 2013
Rain during blossom season leads to low crop yield for blueberries

by Jessica Brophy

The blueberry crop this year is “way down,” despite a healthy amount of rain over the course of the summer, said Kermit Allen of G.M. Allen & Son blueberry growers in Orland.

A good crop for the company is around three million pounds, but this year’s crop looks to be around a third of that, or one million pounds.

Allen attributes the low yield to a rain event that lasted more than a week during blossom season. Blueberry blossoms must be pollinated by bees to develop fruit. “We had a great blossom,” he said. “We brought the bees in, they had about a day of productivity, and then it started to rain.” The rain lasted eight or nine days, said Allen.

This meant the bees were unable to pollinate many of the blossoms. “After the rain stopped, you could see handfuls of blossoms dead on each plant,” said Allen.

In good news for Allen and other fields in Downeast Maine, the newly arrived Spotted Wing Drosophila fruit fly, an invasive species that lays its eggs in ripe berries and can decimate fruit crops, is not abundant in Hancock and Washington counties.

According to Frank Drummond of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, trap captures of the fruit fly have jumped in southern Maine but have remained very low though growing in Downeast Maine. In the cooperative extension’s wild blueberry blog, Drummond said “the infestation must be still very low…likely spotty in the fields and at very low levels.”

Allen said there have been a few sightings in traps on the company’s fields, but not many. Instead, the company’s primary concern has been the weather.

“We like rain, but eight days during blossom is disastrous,” said Allen.