MADISON, WI (SPECTRUM NEWS) — Madison-based scientists are part of a national research group working to create cranberries and blueberries better suited for certain consumer products.

Researchers with the University of Wisconsin Madison and the United States Department of Agriculture are working on the cranberry part of the research from Madison.

The project, called the Vaccinium Coordinated Agricultural Project (VacCAP), is a $12.8 million dollar effort, half funded by the USDA and the other half funded from matching funds. It looks to use genetic resources and tools for improved quality of cranberries and blueberries.

Amaya Atucha, an assistant professor in the horticulture department at UW-Madison, is one of the researchers. She says cranberry juice used to be the top product from the fruit, now it's sweet and dry cranberries found in things like granola bars or cereal.

Cranberries produced for juice and as sweet and dry have different traits best suited for processing.

“Part of this project is to be able to identify what are those traits that we need, whether it's size firmness, colors, and how can we find those traits and how can we breed for them,” Atucha said.

Cranberries and blueberries are both part of the research because they are closely related genetically. The Wisconsin arm of VacCAP will mostly focus on cranberries.

Wisconsin is the top producer of cranberries in the world. The state produces 60 percent of the fruit grown in the U.S.

The research looks at traits like color, size, firmness and internal structure then breeds plants with a genetic makeup ideal for sweet and dried cranberries.

“We can't produce enough to sell all over the world everybody wants sweet and dried cranberries,” said Juan Zalapa, a USDA scientists based in Madison. “If we can produce a crop that produces enough size berries, big size berries, colorful enough with enough firmness to hold up through the process we can sell worldwide.”

Zalapa said the added money from the VacCAP research will allow him to look at a much larger number of plants when breeding, potentially speeding up the process of coming up with a cultivar for farmers to use.

Ultimately the research is intended to come up with a plant to be used by farmers, which could be important financially for Wiscosnin growers.

“Through this project we're really going to be able to deliver cultivars that have improved quality that are going to help our local industry,” Atucha said.

Atucha said the project could also be a first step to coming up with cultivars with a resistance to certain diseases or insects.

The research is expected to last four years.