Ocean Spray runs 36 cultivars through field trials on Ore. coast

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

BANDON, Ore. -- After tending to his cranberry crop, grower Bob Donaldson usually has one more duty.

Tending to new variety trial plots is keeping the Bandon-area grower on his toes -- and in his cranberry bogs just a little longer these days.

Donaldson is tending 36 different cranberry varieties Ocean Spray planted last spring in a bog on his farm just south of Bandon.

The cranberries include some named varieties and several advanced numbered selections.

The varieties, which are owned by Ocean Spray, are being tested in Oregon and in other cranberry-producing areas for yield, disease resistance and area adaptability.

Among the named varieties in Donaldson's bogs are HyRed, Crimson Queen, Mullica Queen and DeMoranville.

The varieties -- both the named and numbered selections -- already have passed initial screenings in New Jersey by Rutgers University breeders and in Wisconsin by University of Wisconsin researchers.

Other than some HyReds Donaldson is growing commercially, the named and numbered varieties generally are new to the Northwest.

The trials, Donaldson said, could help researchers find a variety as good as or better than Stevens, which has long been the standard for Northwest growers. Finding a new variety that's adapted to the region, he said, could provide some needed diversity to Oregon's cranberry acreage.

Donaldson estimated that 80 percent of Oregon's acreage -- or more than 2,000 of Oregon's 2,700 acres planted to cranberries -- are planted to the variety.

Stevens, he said, is high yielding, has good disease resistance and consistently produces good size, good color and high sugars -- all qualities growers look for in a cranberry.

"The benchmark is high with Stevens," he said.

Still, Donaldson said, if a virus were to strike the variety, it could devastate Oregon's cranberry acreage.

Stevens, which came out of USDA cranberry breeding trials in the 1950s, has dominated the Oregon cranberry landscape since the 1970s, when it replaced the McFarlin variety. McFarlin dominated Oregon's cranberry acreage for many years prior to that.

Donaldson said he is hoping to find at least one new variety with characteristics similar to Stevens, but one that perhaps is easier to grow. Stevens, he said, requires extensive pruning due to excessive vine growth.

Researchers planted the plots on Donaldson's farm in March. They are looking primarily at plant vigor in 2010, Donaldson said. In 2011, they'll analyze bloom time, bloom duration and bud set, in addition to fruit quality, size, color and brix (sugar content). They'll also look for disease resistance, upright density and other characteristics growers desire in a cranberry.

Donaldson said growers frequently ask him why he's working with the different varieties, given that Stevens works so well in the Northwest.

"I'm sure people said that when Stevens came along, because we had McFarlin," Donaldson said.

Staff writer Mitch Lies is based in Salem. E-mail: mlies@capitalpress.com.

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