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NCSU Blueberry Breeding Program History

North Carolina State University has a rich history in blueberry variety development, starting in the 1930 through cooperative efforts with the USDA. Initially focused on combating blueberry stem canker, a fungus disease caused by Botryosphaeria corticis which is native to the coastal plain of the southeastern US, the program released resistant varieties like Wolcott in the 1950s. However, by the time many of the Wolcott plantings reached maturity, it was discovered that the stem canker fungus had mutated and it was quite susceptible to several of the new “races” of the fungus. Following the loss of Wolcott to stem canker, Croatan gradually became the mainstay of the North Carolina industry, and remained so until fairly recently.

In the 1970s, the emergence of stem blight, caused by Botyosphaeria dothidea, and the introduction of "southern highbush" varieties reshaped the program. Varieties like O’Neal and Reveille became pivotal, with a focus on superior fruit quality and mechanical harvest.

Altogether 11 standard highbush, 16 southern highbush, 11 rabbiteye, 2 pentaploids and 4 ornamental blueberry varieties have been introduced by the NCSU breeding program over the years. The contributions of the first three breeders to the program are listed below. The fourth breeder, Margaret Schaber, was hired after the last two varieties, Pinnacle and Heintooga, were already planned for release, so she has not been involved in any releases up to the present time.

On April one, 2015, the Horticultural Science Department at N. C. State University welcomed its fifth blueberry breeder/geneticist, Dr. Hudson Ashrafi.