The berries of HyRed, a cranberry bred and tested for more than 10 years by UW-Madison plant breeders Eric Zeldin and Brent McCown, turn deeply red a full two weeks sooner than those of a leading cranberry cultivar called Stevens. HyRed's early and intense fruit color promises to help Midwest growers better compete with East Coast and West Coast cranberry operations that benefit from longer growing seasons.
"Because the Midwest has a shorter growing season and growers have to get the cranberries out before freezing, they've many times had to go in and harvest the crop before it developed full color," says McCown, UW-Madison's Gottschalk Distinguished Professor of Cranberry Research. "Growers can command a premium price for darker berries, so color is one of the issues of competitiveness for the Midwest."
Cranberries are particularly big business in Wisconsin: The state currently produces 50 percent of North America's crop, making Wisconsin the largest cranberry producer in the world.
Given the crop's regional importance, McCown and Zeldin talked with several local growers when launching UW-Madison's cranberry research program in the early 1990s. "We wanted to know what research we could do that would be of unique significance to the Midwest," says McCown.
The scientists decided on boosting the color, or pigment content, of the berries as their first target because color is an easy trait to measure and growers identified it as a key issue. In fact, one grower from Pittsville, Wis., became so involved in developing ideas for the research program that he is listed with Zeldin and McCown on a HyRed patent. The patent was issued in 2003 to UW-Madison's patent and licensing organization, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).