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Evaluation of New Hybrid Cranberry Cultivars with Improved Yield, Fruit Quality and Disease Resistance Under Massachusetts Growing Conditions

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Co-Principal Investigator/Co-Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
UMass Cranberry Station
Project Description: 


Cranberry production has a long history in Massachusetts (MA) that adds important economic and aesthetic value to the region.  About 30% of US acreage and the two largest cranberry handler companies are located in Massachusetts. Threats to the sustainability of cranberry production in MA and elsewhere in the US come from many sources: consumer demands for sustainable but inexpensive products, commodity pricing in an industry that is currently over-supplied with juice concentrate, changes to industry (handler) fruit quality standards, rising costs for energy and pest management products, climate change, and changing standards in pesticide use to accommodate global marketing.  The majority of cranberry acreage in MA is still under old cultivars with low productivity and poor disease resistance. The data in Table 1 represents percentages of acreage of cultivars grown and their productivity in terms of 5-year average yield in MA asof 2017. The data show that over 43% of the acreage is still under 'native' cultivars 'Early Black' and 'Howes' "released" in 1852and 1843, respectively. 'Stevens' and 'Ben Lear', which are the first generation of hybrid cultivars released in 1940 and 1900, respectively make up nearly 40% of the acreage under cranberry production.  Although 'Stevens' and 'Ben Lear' have higher yields, they were not explicitly bred for disease resistance. In total, 83% of the acreage in MA is currently under cultivars released before 1940. The data also shows improved productivity with the newer hybrids. The 5-year average yield of 'Mullica Queen' released in 2008 is 320 barrels per acre. In comparison, the 5-year average yield of 'Early Black' and 'Howes' is astronomically lower at 142 barrels per acre.  MA does not have a breeding program for new cultivars. Growers in MA are interested in bringing in new hybrid cultivars from breeding programs in New Jersey and Wisconsin. However, without proper cultivar evaluation under MA growing conditions, growers are hesitant to do so because of the significant financial risk. The cost of renovating a cranberry bog can range from $10,000 to $45,000 per acre, and growers assume significant financial risk when they 'experiment' with these new cultivars without proper evaluation. This project will evaluate new hybrid cultivars under MA growing conditions and provide growers with reliable data to use in decision making when considering bog renovation. Twelve new hybrid cultivars from breeding programs will be evaluated under rigorous scientific conditions. Recently, disease resistance has become a critical trait in cranberry production because of the restrictions imposed by export markets on the most widely used effective fungicides, the broad-spectrum chlorothalonil (Wells et al., 2014). Adopting resistant cultivars is one of the most sustainable and profitable ways to produce high-quality fruit as it reduces pesticide inputs and the cost of cultivation. Our solution is to conduct a trial of the latest commercially released cranberry hybrid cultivars with a partner farmer under MA growing conditions and collect data on cultivar performance so that our growers can make better cultivar selection decisions. The experimental design will be a randomized complete block design with four replications per treatment. The research will be conducted in conjunction with a MA cranberry grower who has already been identified. The grower has agreed to provide a 0.9-acre cranberry bog for use in the project. The grower will renovate the cranberry bog at a cost of ±$20,000. The renovation will include laser leveling of the bog surface, the addition of a deep sand layer ≈ 10 inches, replacing irrigation systems, purchasing, and applying fertilizers and herbicides. Data will be collected on ease of establishment, yield and productivity, fruit quality, frost tolerance, and susceptibility to damage from pests and disease. The experimental plots will also be made accessible to cranberry growers on field days, and growers will be able to walk through the demonstration plots. Data collected can be used by cranberry growers in MA when making decisions for renovating their bogs, lowering their financial risk when planting new hybrid cranberry cultivars.  As data are collected and analyzed, results will be shared with cranberry growers at winter meetings and bogside workshops. Incorporating grower feedback, we will update management recommendations to reflect knowledge gained and disseminate the recommendations in the Cranberry Chart Book-Management Guide for Growing Cranberries in MA (our annually edited extension publication for cranberry growers) and via newsletters, the recorded Cranberry Station IPM message, and the Cranberry Station website. Information will be shared with colleagues in other cranberry production regions via established networks and the biennial North American Cranberry Research and Extension Workers Conference (NACREW). The primary beneficiaries of this research will be MA cranberry growers and the handlers who receive the fruit. Growers and handlers in other cranberry regions of the U. S. (Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Pacific Northwest) will also benefit from the best management practices developed as a result of this project.  This project aims to be the first to record and publish hybrid cranberry cultivar evaluation under MA growing conditions in the 21st century. Information on yield, fruit quality, disease resistance, herbicide compatibility, frost tolerance, susceptibility to insect damage, and attractiveness to pollinators will be released for the benefit of cranberry growers in MA.

Agriculture topics: