Machines take place of migrants as berry harvest booms

DEBLOIS, Maine (AP) — A push toward mechanization in Maine's blueberry industry is reducing the number of migrant farmers who travel to the state to harvest the crop.

Maine's blueberry harvest attracted more than 5,000 migrant farmers ten years ago and is down to less than a third of that total. Many of the rakers are of Latin American origin or Haitian. Others are Native American.

Maine's annual blueberry harvest totals about 90 million pounds per year. They are wild blueberries that grow nowhere in the world but Maine, the Canadian Maritime provinces and Quebec. Maine produces a quarter of the blueberries on the continent.

Maine has some 44,000 acres of wild blueberries, based mostly in the Downeast area. The state relies on the berries for about $250 million per year in economic value.