BANGOR (AP) – A blueberry processor is offering a reward for information leading to the culprits stealing blueberries right out of the fields.

While the thieves are raking it in, Cherryfield Foods placed an ad in a weekly newspaper offering a $5,000 reward to help get to the bottom of the thefts.

“I know for a fact that some private growers have reported a half-acre here and a half-acre there stolen,” said Ragnar Kamp, general manager of Cherryfield Foods. “Another producer said someone had broken down a fence to steal berries.”

August is the height of harvest season for Maine’s blueberry industry as tens of millions of pounds of the berries are harvested from the blueberry barrens.

Suffice to say, the thefts are not of the smash-and-grab variety. Blueberry harvesting is hard, painstaking work and involves running a rake through the bushes. The tiny berries eventually pile up in 25-pound crates.

Blueberry theft has always been a concern but it became a big problem in the late 1990s when prices were particularly high, Kamp said. Growers have since increased security measures.

“We have people around-the-clock that are watching our fields. It’s quite a patrol,” he said. “When the price of blueberries dropped, thefts disappeared a bit, but now it seems that this has reared its ugly head again.”

While the average price for this year’s crop has not been determined, the average field price last year was 81 cents a pound, up 15 cents from 2005.

In some years, some blueberry fields have yielded up to 12,000 pounds of the fruit per acre. The yield can vary widely from field to field and year to year, and it is too early to estimate the quantity of this year’s crop.

Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith said he had a meeting recently with other law enforcement agencies and local growers about blueberry thievery.

“Because it’s been an ongoing issue in the past and the price seems to be up this year, we decided to discuss it,” Smith said. “We basically agreed to handle it like any other complaint. We do patrol those areas, but as it is we’re stretched pretty thin. We have the whole county to take care of.”

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