Maxwell’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, pictured in 2022, was forced to end its u-pick strawberry operations early this summer because of an invasive fruit fly. Drew Johnson/The Forecaster

Fruit flies have damaged strawberry crops around Maine, causing some growers to end their pick-your-own seasons early.

Late this week, Maxwell’s Farm and Jordan’s Farm, both in Cape Elizabeth, posted notices on social media about the fruit fly issues. Jordan’s Farm said Friday that it would not be picking any more strawberries from its fields, including pick-your-own. The notice went on to say that to ensure that customers won’t go without highly prized local berries, the farm will be buying berries from another local farm to sell at its farm stand for the next week.

“Farming is a fickle thing and Mother Nature can be cruelly dismissive of our livelihood,” read the post from Maxwell’s on Thursday. “This morning we learned that overnight, the fields we were planning on harvesting next, now have new ‘companions,’ in the form of very small fruit flies. … Because of this unfortunate discovery, we are now closed for the remainder of the 2024 strawberry season.”

The Spotted Wing Drosophila, a pest that came to the U.S. from Asia, can damage berries, soft fruits and some vegetables. This year, it has arrived early, shutting down some strawberry operations. File photo

David Handley, a vegetable and small-fruit specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said the culprit is the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive pest that made it to Maine in 2011 and has been a problem ever since for berry growers.

“My phone was on fire yesterday,” Handley said Friday. “It’s not just picking on the Cape Elizabeth growers. It seems to be fairly well-distributed around the state. Looking at what’s been going on in the rest of New England, we’re not alone there either.

“What’s unusual this year is we don’t typically see (fruit fly) populations build up until much later in the season,” Handley continued. “This is typically a big pest in raspberries, blackberries and blueberries that ripen later in the season. Usually, we don’t see it in strawberries. For whatever reason, the relatively mild winter or the warm temperatures this spring, (the flies) have gotten into higher populations a bit early this year, so it’s getting the tail end of the strawberry season as well.”


Handley said he can’t yet estimate the damage to the state’s strawberry crop, but will talk with farmers in the next couple of weeks to assess the flies’ impact on yield.

Other Maine strawberry growers reported no issues with the flies. “Everything’s going fine here,” said a staffer at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, while a voice message at Fairwinds Farm in Bowdoinham reported Friday that they’re still picking “small but sweet” strawberries. R. Belanger & Sons Farms in Lewiston posted on Facebook that its berries are ripening faster than usual because of warm weather and rain, but made no mention of fruit fly problems.

Handley said the strawberry season started around June 15 this year for most Maine farmers, around the usual time.

“The harvest season was naturally more concentrated this year because when you get that kind of heat, everything ripens at once,” he said. “So it looked like it was going to be a short season anyway, but this certainly made it a lot shorter than we wanted it to be, and not the way we wanted it to end, either.”

Handley said the early fruit fly activity means farmers will need to be vigilant right away with their coming berry crops. “Typically, raspberry and blueberry growers can pick for a week or two before they start noticing flies and then they’ll get on a control program,” he said. “This year, they’re going to have to be on the ball right from the get-go.”

Farmers can take a variety of measures to defend against fly damage, including applying pesticides and setting up protective netting over the crops. “There are all kinds of things that can be done long term and in the short term to make sure we’re still putting good-quality fruit out there,” Handley said. “We’ve dealt with this pest before. It caught us by surprise by its early arrival, but it is something we’ll be able to manage. We should still be looking forward to a good growing season, the crops are looking really good.”

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