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Leading blueberry and cranberry researchers convene in Kannapolis

KANNAPOLIS — Around the table were a plant physiologist, a bioinformatist, a breeder, an economist and a post-harvest physiologist, among others.

A multidisciplinary force and a collaborative spirit were driving the discussions at the N.C. Research Campus on April 24 and 25 when an international group of 30 leading researchers convened to discuss the future of blueberry and cranberry research.

The meeting, hosted by Assistant Professor Massimo Iorizzo of N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute, was a culmination of their efforts to successfully survey blueberry and cranberry growers for direct feedback on the industry’s needs.

To kick off the meeting, Karina Gallardo of Washington State University presented a statistical summary of the survey results. Gallardo said the response rate in excess of 300 was one of the most successful agricultural producer surveys she has been a part of.

The research team identified several priorities for breeders to consider. They include fruit quality, insect and disease resistance, plant and fruit characteristics to improve machine harvest, frost tolerance and heat resistance.

The researchers, including potential international collaborators, spent a large part of the meeting in working groups to discuss research and identify focus areas for a future grant proposal.

The group heard from two influential stakeholders in the blueberry and cranberry industry. David Brazelton, president of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery in Lowell, Oregon, offered insight into the global status of the blueberry industry and its continued growth.

Brazelton said he is excited about the potential research initiatives that could result from a collaborative effort. While the development of genomic tools to help breeders is a main objective of the team, he reiterated its value for identifying relevant traits.

He noted a need for advances in disease resistance, cold hardiness and site adaptability, admittedly traits that may be more challenging to identify.

Terry Humfeld, executive director of the Cranberry Institute, said breeding efforts in the past decade have significantly improved cranberry yields but that there is room for improvement. Cranberries that are larger, firmer and naturally sweeter are at the top of the industry’s wish list.

The project is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative Planning Grant. USDA planning grants are a precursor to larger grants that can ultimately spur research to develop advanced breeding-genomic approaches to meet industry and consumer needs.

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