Cranberry News: Vasanna variety

Cranberries have very specific needs regarding soil, water, and nutrition, among other things, and the research team at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research are always hard at work helping cranberry growers address those needs. In recent years, they have developed several new varieties to increase yield per acre, combat disease, and improve color.

Pine Island is starting to see some nice results from one new variety we planted back in 2015, and there’s exciting news on the horizon for growers in other regions: the Vasanna variety!

According to Rutgers, qualities for Vasanna include yields to over 500 barrels/acre in British Columbia and Wisconsin, low fruit rot, higher berry weight, and mid-season TAcy (color measurement). It should do well in most areas, and particularly well in the typical soil conditions in moderate oceanic climates, such as Oregon, Wisconsin, & British Columbia.

There’s a wonderful story to the Vasanna name, as well, and it means a lot to one particular Rutgers scientist. From Fruit Growers News:

Rutgers University cranberry breeder Nicholi Vorsa named his latest release, Vasanna, in memory of his parents, Vas and Anna. Immigrants from Belarus, they had few resources but encouraged him and his brother to finish their doctorate degrees.

“They saw it as a road to success in this country,” said Vorsa. “I was featured in the New York Times once – it was my early years at Rutgers. My father was very proud of that.”

That the Vorsa family was even able to immigrate was extremely fortunate. Vorsa said his grandfather, Damian, was once a cooper with as many as 20 apprentices who helped him build barrels, casks and even water towers for small villages – but the family members were historically were “White Russians” or anti-communists, he said, and grandfather Damian spent time in the Soviet Union’s gulag. The family was blocked from immigrating for years during the USSR’s Josef Stalin regime, arriving in the United States in 1952, Vorsa said.

In an interview with News 12, Nick says, “They were fortunate to get out after the war and come to the U.S. My grandmother was an avid gardener. I was amazed at the variety of tomatoes she had. And that spawned my interest in this area.”

The NJ cranberry industry, and indeed, the industry as a whole, are grateful to be the beneficiaries of that early interest. . .and fortunate to have such strength and resiliency in our community.

ACGA Summer Field Day 2020

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) held its annual summer meeting to hear updates from the Rutgers P.E. Marucci Center on current projects. Normally field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand, but this year, things were a little different.

“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, this year we could not have our regular in-person meeting,” says Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona. “Instead, the meeting was held virtually, and the agenda had a ‘hybrid’ format with scientists from the Marucci Center and USDA-ARS presenting updates on their work during the first hour and a Q&A session during the second hour.”

As a result, it was a much briefer program, but the presenters were able to convey a lot of information in that short amount of time. First the growers heard from Dr. Peter Oudemans about his ongoing research on methods for managing fruit quality and disease control, as well as the potential of using honeybees to protect cranberries against diseases. Dr. James Polashock provided an update on his research to develop resistance against fruit rot, while director Dr. Nicholi Vorsa discussed a condition of cranberries he calls “crunchy vines” and its potential causes and remedies. Cesar, of course, discussed insect pest priorities as well as future Entomology research projects. Finally, Baylee Carr (representing Dr. Thierry Besançon’s program) provided an update on current strategies for Carolina redroot and moss control.

One of the biggest draws of the ACGA meetings, besides research updates, is the opportunity to catch up with fellow growers. This made the Q&A section of the meeting especially lively. “Despite having to move online, it was still a worthwhile and educational meeting for the growers,” says ACGA president Shawn Cutts. “Hearing updates on the latest research as well as having the opportunity to discuss late season issues during the Q&A was valuable.”

“Although we missed not having the regular in-person interactions and field tours typical of our summer meetings, the virtual meeting was well attended and highlighted the importance of continued communication and exchange of information between researchers and growers,” Cesar says.

“I missed visiting the Rutgers bogs but I thought it was a really good meeting,” says Pine Island CEO Bill Haines. “The presentations were clear and concise and the discussion and questions after were excellent.”

The ACGA board also thanks Lindsay Wells-Hansen for her help setting up the virtual meeting, and is, as always, hugely grateful to Cesar for organizing yet another successful gathering!

Welcome to Lindsay Wells-Hansen!

Ocean Spray scientist Dan Schiffhauer retired at the end of 2019, and the cranberry community is very pleased to welcome his successor, Lindsay Wells-Hansen! Lindsey, a south Jersey native who earned her undergrad degree at Temple University, comes back home to us from the cranberry community in Wisconsin (where she earned her Ph.D at the University of Wisconsin) and we’re very happy to have her. She’s been making the rounds to meet all of the local growers, and this week was able to sit down at Pine Island with Bill Haines, Mike Haines, and Bryan vonHahmann to talk about our needs for the growing season.

“I think what I’m enjoying most so far about being back in New Jersey is being so close to family again,” Lindsay says. “My husband and I certainly miss our friends and family in Wisconsin, but having the opportunity to be near my side of the family while working in a field that I love is really special. I’m also super excited to be back in the Pine Barrens; I’m a true ‘piney’ at heart, and I absolutely love hiking in and exploring the unique landscape that the Pine Barrens have to offer. Oh, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying the much milder winter temperatures again!”

There are also some regional differences beyond climate! “Although my position here is similar in many ways to the one I held before, I’m experiencing the ‘usual’ challenges that come along with any career change,” Lindsay says. “Establishing new relationships with growers and other colleagues, determining the trajectory of my extension and research programs here, et cetera. One of the cool things about cranberries is that they’re grown a little bit differently in every growing region. While I’m generally familiar with the growing practices here in New Jersey, I’m more familiar with the practices in Wisconsin, so one challenge is going to be learning all of the ins-and-outs of cranberry growing in NJ. Growers have figured out what works best for them on their farm, and it’s always fun to learn why things are done a certain way on one farm or in one growing region but not another. These are all great challenges to have, and I’m very excited to get to know each of the growers, to learn from them, and to better understand their needs so that I can be as helpful as possible in the coming years.”

Linsday was also able to attend ACGA winter meeting last week, and found it enormously helpful. “Not only is the meeting a great opportunity to hear a summary of results from all of the research that was conducted over the past growing season(s), but it also provides a wonderful venue for getting to know growers better. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-attended the meeting was, and being there gave me the opportunity to meet growers that I hadn’t met before and to talk further with those that I had met. The NJ cranberry growers seem to be a very tight-knit group, and everyone has been extremely welcoming so far, which means so much to me and is certainly making the transition into my new role easier.”

One of her favorite aspects of this job is that she gets to be in the field working with growers on a daily basis in an effort to help them produce the best crop possible. “I’m really looking forward to establishing closer relationships with the growers and to getting out in the field again soon once the water comes off! I’m also very much looking forward to working closely with the researchers at Rutgers on some exciting research projects.”

Harvest time is a popular time of year for visitors, but for people who work in the industry, there’s something of interest all year round. Lindsay’s favorite time of year is during bloom: “There’s just something really serene about kneeling in the middle of a cranberry bed that’s in full bloom listening to the constant buzz of thousands of pollinators while watching them work the flowers (unless, of course, you run into some angry bees… then it’s anything but serene!). It’s an exciting time knowing that berries are soon to follow!”

On our part, Pine Island Cranberry is very happy to have a Jersey girl come back home. “We’re really excited to have Lindsay in New Jersey,” says Bill Haines. “We know that she did a great job in Wisconsin, and we’re looking forward to working with her here.”

ACGA Summer Field Day – 2019

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It was nice catching up with everybody, as always! I enjoyed the talk about the winter flooding; that was interesting. The sanding experiment was something I’ve been thinking about for a while, so it was nice seeing the results of that.

Justin Ross:

I think there are some really neat things coming soon with the use of gene sequencing. Hopefully we will see this speed up the development of of new varieties. James and Nick are doing great work.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.

Twilight Meeting 2019

This week, Pine Island Cranberry was glad to host the annual Cranberry Growers Twilight Meeting, run by Cesar Rodriguez-Saona of the Rutgers University Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research. In contrast to the American Cranberry Grower Association’s annual winter meeting, the focus here is less research-oriented and uses a more hands-on approach to addressing timely topics of importance to cranberry growers. Included on the agenda were such topics as troubleshooting cranberry disease problems and working with new cranberry varieties.

In addition to the importance of new research findings, it’s also a great chance for the cranberry community to get together face-to-face. Our team, and the other growers, work with Rutgers all the time, but it’s good to be able to sit down with other growers and find out if they’re having some of the same problems with pests, or fairy ring, or excessive heat. That additional perspective can help us troubleshoot our own applications.

“I thought the meeting overall went really well,” says Matt Giberson. “It was good seeing other growers; we haven’t really been able to get together since the winter meeting.” He got a lot out of the presentations this year, as well. “Peter’s research on the fairy ring was good; I liked the clarification on which briar causes the issue. Now we can target those and really go after them, both in and outside of the bog.” Even better, a lot of the treatment comes from our sustainability practices: “I think a lot of our prescribed burning here has helped kill the green briar, as well as mowing around the pump house and the gates.”

Matt also thought things looked bright for future research. “I enjoyed Jennifer’s talk as well; her research with the new rot resistance varieties sounded promising. We’re doing a test plot for her here and so are the Darlingtons, which will be useful for the industry as a whole.”

ACGA Winter Meeting 2019

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association once again held its annual winter meeting. The ACGA winter meeting is always a good opportunity for growers to listen to research findings from experiments during the previous growing season and the researchers’ recommendations for the 2019 growing season. In addition, it’s a great chance for the local cranberry community to catch up to each other after the busy harvest season.

Pine Island sent a big crew this year, and they all came away pleased with the experience. CEO Bill Haines thought this year was particularly good, and as always, enjoyed the the chance to sit down and chat with fellow growers at lunch. ““You can get as much from just having a conversation over lunch as you can from the presentation,” he says.

The rest of the team were equally glad they attended. “It was good to know about some regulatory changes that are coming up,” says Justin Ross. “Knowing what will and won’t be available now will help us plan things better for later.”

“I thought Thierry’s research with the effectiveness of of some treatments on red root was interesting,” says Matt Giberson. “I think more testing should be done on the timing of the application that would be most effective, though. Very interested to know more about how we can kill that swan loving devil weed.” One other side note he thought was interesting: how some treatments seem to greatly reduce yield when applied early in berry development. “From talking to Peter, it seems that it causes phytotoxicity to the flower making it less likely to produce fruit, hence the cause of pin fruit development.”

Newer team member Mike Scullion says, “I enjoyed learning about the management of red root in our bogs as that is an ongoing issue we are dealing with on our farm. My favorite part of the meeting, as always, is learning about the new varieties Nick Vorsa is working on. They are getting closer and closer to producing a strain of cranberry that not only has a higher resistance to fruit rot, but still has a higher yield.”

“I found Nakorn’s presentation really interesting,” says Mike Haines. “We know that we don’t want blunt-nosed leafhopper in the bogs, as they spread false blossom disease, but it was interesting to hear his hypotheses and thoughts on why this interaction occurs, like how the leafhoppers that feed on diseased plants end up being larger adults, and that nutrient levels are actually higher in infected plants.”

All in all, it was another productive day for our Pine Island team as well another excellent program put together by Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona. Thank you, Cesar!

Ocean Spray Regional Meeting

This week, Ocean Spray held one of their regular regional meetings at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research to provide a business and cooperative update for New Jersey grower-owners. Not everyone manages to get to every Annual Growers Meeting, so it was a great chance to hear from CEO Bobby Chacko as well as several senior executives about where Ocean Spray is, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there!

Pine Island CEO and member of the Ocean Spray Board of Directors Bill Haines opened the meeting by introducing the management team. “Two things you can count on from this management team: one, they’re working hard, and two, they’ll tell us the truth,” he said.

Bobby said, upon his selection, “Ocean Spray’s story is close to nine decades old, but we are just getting started,” and everyone’s presentations this week are in line with that vision. We heard from Board Chairman Peter Dhillon, Bobby, and new senior executives Joseph Vanderstelt (SVP, Chief Financial Officer), Brian Schiegg (SVP, Chief Commercial Officer), and Jamie Head (Chief Information Officer), as well as board advisor Marla Gottschalk. Each speaker gave us a little bit of their background and what strengths they bring to Ocean Spray as an organization as well as their vision for the coop’s future. They touched upon supply, marketing, and the importance of emphasizing that the company is grower-owned, and spent a great deal of time answering questions both respectfully and openly.

“I thought it was great,” says grower Steve Sooy. “The more they’re here to talk with us, the better off they are and the better off we are. I appreciate straight talk, no sugarcoating, and they gave us that.”

“Honesty,” Steve says. “You can’t ask for better than that.”

ACGA Summer Field Day 2018

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Though Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona was sadly absent due to a conflicting academic commitment, he once again put together an excellent and informative program, and Dr. Nick Vorsa stepped in to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Justin Ross:

“I liked seeing everyone all together. Nick and Jennifer’s calcium study was interesting; that’s something to keep in mind if we were to try liquid fertilizer.”

Mike Scullion:

“My favorite parts of today’s meeting was Nick’s talk on the health benefits of cranberries and how they’re a rich source of phenolic compounds, especially the flavonoids. Also, he mentioned that they are working on a new variety of cranberry that has reduced acid levels. This will be great because you won’t need as much added sugar to make them more palatable. Exciting stuff!”

Matt Stiles:

“I thought Thierry’s talk was really interesting; he’s doing a lot of work. It’s great to have that research, especially for the young bogs, where you have to control weeds early on in order to keep them out of there. So it’s interesting to see what he’s working on and where he thinks it’s going to go. I also always like hearing the latest updates on new varieties, especially the work on fruit rot resistance.”

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It’s always nice to see all the other growers; being able to catch up with them and see if they’re seeing the same effects of the weather, how they’re handling things, get some ideas. I also liked Peter’s update; I like the direction he’s going with regard to fruit quality, seeing what hasn’t worked, taking it a step farther. if you find a way to keep scald from happening, then you take the chance, and it’s exciting to see that work being done. It was also neat to have the the drone to see how we could do it on a larger scale. It’s good that the meeting coincided with the marketing committee, too; we were all able to chat with people from different growing areas.”

Mike Haines:

“It’s cool seeing the progress on everyone’s experiments. One of my favorite talks is always hearing Nick and Jennifer talk about fruit rot resistance breeding, and getting to actually go into into the research bed and see all the trials where they’re mixing resistant low-yield varieties with Crimson Queen to see if they can get a good producer. Hand in hand with that, Jim Polashock’s talk about genomics was interesting; it’s not something I’m overly familiar with, but the way he presented I was able to follow and understand.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.

Twilight Meeting 2018

This week, some Pine Island team members attended the Cranberry Growers Twilight Meeting, hosted this year by the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension. In contrast to the American Cranberry Grower Association’s Winter Meeting, the focus here is less research-oriented and uses a more hands-on approach to addressing timely topics of importance to cranberry growers.

The first scheduled talk was with Patricia Hastings of the Rutgers University Agricultural Extension Service, who has taken over the annual safety talk requirements after Ray Samulis retired! We all miss Ray, who’s been a mainstay for many years, but it’s wonderful to have someone willing to step in to assist with continuing education. Other talks included monitoring for cranberry insects, with Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona; an update on cranberry diseases with Dr. Peter Oudemans; an update on weed management by Dr. Thierry Besancon; and finished up with a talk on frost damage in cranberries with Dr. Nick Vorsa. And, of course, there was a good dinner, provided by the hard-working staff of the Marucci Center!

In addition to the importance of new research findings, it’s also a great chance for the cranberry community to get together face-to-face. Our team, and the other growers, work with Rutgers all the time, but it’s good to be able to sit down with other growers and find out if they’re having some of the same problems with pests, or fairy ring, or excessive heat. That additional perspective can help us troubleshoot our own applications.

Cesar stepped in after Ray’s retirement to organize and host this year’s meeting, and we’re all very grateful for it. He set up a highly informative program and an excellent meal, just as he does for the annual Winter Meeting and Summer Field Day, year after year. Thank you, Cesar!

ACGA Winter Meeting 2018

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association once again held its annual winter meeting. The ACGA winter meeting is always a good opportunity for growers to listen to research findings from experiments during the previous growing season and the researchers’ recommendations for the 2018 growing season. In addition, it’s a great chance for the local cranberry community to catch up to each other after the busy harvest season.

This year, the attendees from Pine Island were Mike Haines, Matt Giberson, Matt Stiles, and Justin Ross, and all of them found the presentations useful and informative. The top presentation for all four of them was the work being done by Jennifer Johnson-Cicalese on new varieties. “Jennifer’s was my favorite this time,” says Mike. “Improving rot resistance will keep the industry as viable as possible in NJ, and it sounds like they’re making progress on that.” Matt Giberson agrees: “That’s most important for our needs. If she finds out a way to produce a new variety with lower rot, it can really help us.”

Everyone was also interested in the report by Peter Oudemans on heat, with Matt being especially interested in the use of fake berries with heat sensors to measure internal temperature. It was also his first chance to hear from Thierry Besançon. “I’m glad he’s working on the red root issue,” Matt says. “We can see from Red Road how the different treatments are working, and it looks like he’s been making good progress.”

The final presentation of the day was the safety talk, delivered by someone other than Ray Samulis for the first time any of us can remember. “It was weird not having Ray there!” Matt says. “George did a good job though; that was good info on new regulations throughout the year and I was glad to see we’re a little ahead of the game with our current training program.”

“I thought it was a great meeting,” says Matt Stiles. “All of the presenters did a great job conveying useful information to us that we will be able to use throughout the growing season.” He is also grateful to everyone that helped put it together. So a huge thank you, as always to Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona for yet another fantastic program! Cesar does a ton of work on this every year in addition to his research, and we’re all grateful for the opportunity.

“This was a great learning experience,” says newer Pine Island team member Justin Ross. “There’s a lot of good stuff going on and a lot of energy in the industry.”