With rapid shifts in the blueberry and cranberry industries calling for higher fruit quality, researchers at North Carolina State University have received funding for a project led by Massimo Iorizzo at the university's new Plants for Human Health Institute.
The Vaccinium Coordinate Agricultural Project (VacCAP) research team -- Iorizzo, Mary Ann Lila and Penelope Perkins-Veazie -- was granted $6.4 million for the next four years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The team hopes to adapt consistent texture and sensory profiles to industry need.
“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," Iorizzo said. "And that would target traits that are critical to stakeholders, including growers, processors and consumers.”
Cranberries and blueberries are in the Vaccinium species, whose annual wholesale industry is estimated at $2 billion by North Carolina State University. However, upsets in the market are pointing towards a future of difficulty for the Vaccinium industry. According to the Global Blueberry Statistics Intelligence Report, product availability has benefitted industry growth in the past, but consumer shifts are moving towards high quality goods such as sweetened dried cranberries. Harvesting cost is also a heavy 80% of production costs due to the need for berries to be harvested by hand.
“Funding from the blueberry commodity groups, like North Carolina Blueberry Council, can only in-part support research and breeding, while securing federal funds complements these investments," said Ralph Carter, president of the council. "A project like this is critical to the continued growth of blueberry industry in N.C. and in other berry producing regions of the U.S.”