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Blueberry Harvest Hurt by Drought

August 28, 1998

MILBRIDGE, Maine (AP) _ Maine’s nearly completed wild blueberry harvest has been hurt badly by drought and will be substantially smaller than the average take of the past five years.

Damage to blueberry plants caused by a January ice storm figures into the loss, but the big reason is the recent lack of rain.

``Overall, if you look down east, they haven’t even had an inch in August,″ Dave Yarborough, blueberry specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said Thursday.

Yarborough said the overall harvest from Maine’s barrens will be ``no less than 55 million, no more than 60 million pounds″ this season. As evidence of the poor crop, the harvest is virtually complete, while it usually continues into the first week of September.

Berries were so puny and hard to rake that some field workers, paid by the box, refused to continue work until they received a raise earlier this month from Jasper Wyman & Sons, a major processor.

Harvests in some fields were off by half, Yarborough said. But bad as the harvest was, ``it’s not a disaster,″ he said.

Quebec lost 95 percent of its crop to frost early in the season, and other areas that produce the fruit also had poor harvests, he said.

Maine, the nation’s top wild blueberry producer, has about 60,000 acres of blueberry barrens, with about half of the total in production each season.

From 1992 to 1996, the harvest averaged 66.7 million pounds per season. Last year’s total was 73.8 million pounds, well below the 1992 record of 84.5 million pounds, according to the state Agriculture Department.

In mid-July, experts were predicting a 1998 harvest of about 70 million pounds, but they modified that prediction after the long dry spell.

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YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) _ Juice grapes here are like the teetotaling cousins of Washington’s spirited wine grapes _ they just don’t get the same attention.

But whatever they might lack in splashy reputation, they make up for in quantity. Last year, Washington produced 257,000 tons of such juice and jam mainstays as Concords, compared with a record 62,000 tons of wine grapes.

While 1998 is expected to be another record year for wine grapes, the juice grape harvest is expected to be on the smaller side.

The evidence is in the fields, where last year’s acre that produced 11 tons only has 6 1/2 tons this year, said Mike Concienne, a Grandview field representative for the National Grape Cooperative in Westfield, N.Y., and the parent company of Welch Foods.

A separate state agricultural forecast for juice grapes wasn’t available. The forecast for all varieties this year is 255,000 tons. The wine grape industry is predicting it will have a 78,000-ton harvest _ suggesting a significant decline in juice grapes, perhaps as much as 80,000 tons.

There may be a couple of reasons why yields are down this year: juice grapes tend to alternate between large and small crops, and the weather was unfavorably cool and damp at bloom time.

``The big thing this year is that there’s just so few clusters, and that’s evident right off,″ said Dick Boushey, a Grandview area grower. ``There’s no fruit poking out anywhere. It’s all hidden in the foliage.″

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