New Jersey botanist teams with Rutgers to develop new breed of cranberry
A New Jersey botanist has teamed with Rutgers University to develop a new breed of cranberry.
The Garden State is the third-largest producer of cranberries in the United States. Rutgers professor and plant botanist Nicholi Vorsa is responsible for creating six different commercial breeds of the berries over the years – including what is becoming the most widely producer cranberry – the Mullica Queen.
Vorsa started the Rutgers cranberry and blueberry program in 1985 and has since transformed an industry that long-relied on a few older types of berries.
“Hopefully developing varieties that are more tolerant of the head-stress conditions that we currently have,” Vorsa says.
Thanks in part to the Mullica Queen's high yield, the Pine Island Cranberry Company in Chatsworth is seeing its biggest per acre harvest ever this year. The farm has been in the Haines family for five generations.
And now Vorsa and Rutgers have released a new cranberry breed called the Vasanna. Like the berry itself, the name Vasanna is a hybrid name combining the names of Vorsa’s deceased parents, Vas and Anna. They were immigrants from Belarus who escaped the regime of Joseph Stalin, who had put Vorsa’s grandfather in a gulag.
“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,” Vorsa says.
He says that naming the new cranberry after his family is the ultimate tribute.
“They wanted to build a better life for themselves and they emphatically emphasized that we had a good education,” Vorsa says. “They were fortunate that they would have their children aspire to higher things than they could in the Soviet Union."
Vorsa and farmers say that while the biggest market for cranberries used to be juice and cranberry sauce, it is now dried cranberries or cranberry raisins.