Nov 21, 2016
Rutgers’ bountiful cranberries spreading in US, Canada and overseas

If you drink cranberry juice, munch on dried cranberries or savor cranberry sauce, chances are they may include varieties bred at Rutgers University in the New Jersey Pinelands.

“A lot of Rutgers cranberry varieties were planted over the last decade and they’re worldwide now, a unique win for Rutgers,” said Nicholi Vorsa, director of Rutgers’ Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension in Chatsworth, Burlington County. The center is within the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), a research unit of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

The six Rutgers cranberry varieties developed by Vorsa and his colleagues at NJAES are increasingly planted and harvested in New Jersey and other states and nations. They include Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington State, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick (Canada), Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Quebec, British Columbia, Chile and New Zealand, Vorsa said. Rutgers varieties include Crimson Queen, Demoranville, Mullica Queen, Scarlet Knight, Welkerand Haines cranberries – all introduced since 2005.

“I think it’s safe to say that they make it into all our products,” said Kellyanne Dignan, senior manager of cooperative communications at Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. in Lakeville-Middleboro, Massachusetts. “About 65 percent of the global crop comes through Ocean Spray,” she noted. Ocean Spray, which has helped fund Rutgers cranberry research, is a grower-owned cooperative of 700-plus families.

Most cranberry growers who are renovating beds – taking out an old variety and putting in a new one – will consider Rutgers varieties and, for the most part, would choose to plant them, said Rodney Serres, manager of agricultural sciences at Ocean Spray. At least two Rutgers varieties – Mullica Queen and Crimson Queen – have better yields than older varieties, seem to be widely accepted and do well in a variety of conditions, he said.

In North America, Rutgers is the No. 1 provider of improved, patented varieties, according to Leon Segal, director of licensing in Rutgers’ Office of Research Commercialization. Rutgers purebred cranberries provide improved yields and have other unique characteristics, including bigger fruit, high vigor and improved pest and disease resistance.

The new Rutgers varieties have been fruitful for Rutgers. The university receives royalty income from licensing patented cranberry varieties and other technologies, according to Edward Tate, director of communications in Rutgers’ Office of Research and Economic Development.

Rutgers uses some of the royalties – more than $7 million in the last 10 years – to support research on new and improved cranberry varieties, benefiting growers and consumers.

Prior to Rutgers-bred cranberries, the cranberry industry relied on varieties with an undefined or intermingled genetic base, according to Segal. Rutgers varieties are considered genetically pure.

One of those older varieties, called Stevens, was developed by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1940s and planted in the Pinelands. It’s a cross between native Massachusetts and Wisconsin cranberries.

“Ocean Spray mainly uses Stevens, but there is a transition now,” Vorsa said. “Many growers are ripping out older varieties such as Stevens, which are less productive, and planting new varieties and in many cases, they’re Rutgers varieties.”

In the U.S., the Mullica Queen, Demoranville and Crimson Queen varieties have been planted in nearly 3,800 acres. Scarlet Knight has been planted in 138 acres, and the Welker and Haines varieties cover 163 acres, according to Cindy Hanna, assistant director of license administration and compliance in Rutgers’ Office of Research Commercialization.

“Mullica Queen has achieved extremely high yields, particularly in Wisconsin, so it’s probably the top yielding variety in the world,” said Vorsa, whose cranberry breeding program began in 1985.

Today, the program focuses on developing varieties that resist fruit rot – caused by more than 10 types of fungi that destroy the fruit, he said. The program is funded by a competitive USDA-NIFAAgricultural and Food Research Initiative grant.

“Fruit rot is a major issue in growing cranberries from New Jersey, particularly with the much hotter summers that we’ve been experiencing,” he said. “Heat exacerbates the disease pressure, particularly for fruit rot.’

Serres, of Ocean Spray, said Vorsa has done a fantastic job breeding new cranberry varieties.

“Previously, it was all about harvest date, but now I think the focus is on fruit size and all Rutgers varieties tend to be larger than many of the native varieties and that’s important to us in cranberry production,” Serres said. “The yields have for the most part been greater than the native varieties.”

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