US scientists receive $12.8M to improve cranberries and blueberries

Two scientists at UW–Madison are part of a team that recently received $12.8 million to improve the fruit quality of cranberries and blueberries. The Vaccinium Coordinated Agricultural Project (VacCAP) was awarded a four-year, $6.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with another $6.4 million from matching funds.

VacCAP will study blueberries and cranberries, both part of the Vaccinium genus, with a goal of improving the fruit and products made from the fruit. The production value of cranberries and blueberries is more than $1 billion in the U.S., and Wisconsin is the top producer of cranberries in the world. VacCAP is a multi-institutional effort, and UW–Madison’s Amaya Atucha and Juan Zalapa (USDA), both in the Department of Horticulture, will lend their expertise on cranberries.

The project is largely industry-driven, and surveys identified firmness, color and fruit size as high priorities for cranberry producers. As the cranberry market shifts from juice to other products such as sweetened dried cranberries, the industry needs to produce more higher-quality fruit. Currently, as much as 20 percent of cranberries are unusable as dried cranberries and get shifted into the juice concentrate market, which commands a lower price and can become saturated. For the economic sustainability of the cranberry industry, more fruit that is suitable for the dried cranberry market is needed.

“We have had a lot of involvement from the cranberry industry here in Wisconsin,” says Atucha. “The priorities for the research that we’re doing were based on the needs from the industry. We also have a cranberry grower from Wisconsin as part of our advisory panel. The growers are very well represented in the project.”

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