Dec 5, 2019
$12.8M grant used to improve fruit quality of blueberry, cranberry

A new project has a long-term goal of improving blueberry and cranberry quality based on producer and consumer interests.

North Carolina State University scientists, Massimo Iorizzo, Mary Ann Lila and Penelope Perkins-Veazie, were awarded a four-year, $6.4 million grant from the USDA, along with secured, dollar-for-dollar matching funds.

The $12.8 million project, VacciniumCAP: Leveraging genetic and genomic resources to enable development of blueberry and cranberry cultivars with improved fruit quality attributes, will be led by Iorizzo at the Plants for Human Health Institute, which is located at the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis.

The “VacCAP” project, short for Vaccinium Coordinated Agricultural Project will explore blueberry and cranberry, which are both botanically part of the Vaccinium species. One thing that sets this project apart is the fact that it is highly industry-driven. While breeders and industry representatives understand that use of DNA markers represent an effective strategy to develop improved cultivars, DNA-based information is still not used in blueberry and cranberry breeding programs.

“In 2015, when I joined this community, it was clear to me and many others that there was a need to secure funds to develop a coordinated, multi-state, interdisciplinary project that could advance genetic discoveries with potential application in breeding programs, and that would target traits that are critical to stakeholders, including growers, processors and consumers.,” Iorizzo said.

In 2016 and 2017, with funding from a USDA Planning Grant, Iorizzo coordinated a preliminary research project by distributing a survey to blueberry and cranberry stakeholders to identify industry priorities. Improving fruit quality, specifically firmness, flavor, shelf life and appearance (color, size, free of disease damage) were noted as high priority. That information served as the basis for the area of improvement that will be targeted during the VacCAP project.

The U.S. Vaccinium industry’s domestic wholesale value exceeds $2 billion/year. U.S. Vaccinium stakeholders are global leaders in cultivar development, production, processing and distribution of blueberries, cranberries and value-added products. Though production and consumption is growing worldwide, the growth of US production has slowed in the past five years.




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