Plants take root at the Wyman’s Wild Blueberry Research and Innovation Center
Pallet-sized mats of wild blueberry thatch took a 52-mile trip from Deblois to the University of Maine’s Wyman’s Wild Blueberry Research and Innovation Center in Old Town April 12 for planting. The milestone in the center’s development follows years of preparations and will create multidisciplinary research opportunities for faculty and students.
Maine’s state fruit is wild. Commercially-grown lowbush blueberries are not planted; they are cultivated in their natural environment. Transplanting parent plants is rare, as they readily spring from the gravelly, acidic soils left by melting glaciers on their own. To ensure the berries would thrive, the team at Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, which manages UMaine’s research farm network, had to recreate Maine’s blueberry barrens in highly controlled raised beds.
They also had to account for the crop’s rich genetic diversity. The plants were carefully selected and genotyped to ensure each patch of thatch grew from a single origin plant. This genetic precision is a first for wild blueberry research, akin to approaches traditionally used for orchards or row crops.
The research planned for the site requires frequent management and monitoring, necessitating its proximity to the UMaine campus. The location will also facilitate new opportunities for students to engage with research and wild blueberries, streamlining the workforce pipeline for one of Maine’s top food commodities.
The Wyman’s Center’s 36- to 144-square-foot raised beds will allow researchers to control for precipitation, temperature, and plant genetics so they can study wild blueberries with unprecedented precision. In time, the research opportunities created by the center will improve predictions about how the berries respond to field conditions, and ultimately refine crop production techniques that benefit growers, consumers, and the environment.
The center was made possible through a gift from Wyman’s, a 149-year-old family-owned business based in Milbridge. Wyman’s, which harvests and processes fruit throughout Down East and Midcoast Maine, is the number one brand of frozen fruit in the nation and distributes wild blueberries globally.
The Wyman’s Center in Old Town facilitates detailed and controlled research to complement the commercial-scale field research at Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro and on growing operations large and small across the growing region. UMaine’s Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station faculty and their students have conducted wild blueberry research since at least 1898.
Contact: Erin Miller, email@example.com