Maine blueberry grower Courtney Hammond spent the past summer developing a makeshift irrigation system, using sprinkler heads and hoses that he scraped together. “Two pumps running all the time, trying to maintain what we had for our crop,” Hammond said. “It was a long season. At least until it rained.”
For the first time ever, Hammond turned to the pond that he typically draws from to flood his cranberry beds, and used it to irrigate his wild blueberries. This irrigation scheme helped. But Hammond estimates that he still lost about half of his crop to drought.
Scientists say earlier harvests and more frequent droughts could soon become the norm as temperatures rise on the blueberry fields. University of Maine research shows those fields are warming at a faster rate compared to the rest of the state as a whole.
It’s not all bad news, said YongJiang “John” Zhang, an assistant professor of plant physiology at the University of Maine. Warmer temperatures will extend the berries’ growing season. That means the berries will be heavier, generating a better yield for farmers, as long as steps are taken to address the drier conditions.
“They have more time to accumulate carbohydrates or sugars, and they have more time to grow,” he said. “If we provide them enough resources, maybe we can turn the warming or climate change into a good thing for the crops, if we can mitigate those negative impacts.”