US Patent & Canadian Plant Breeders' Rights pending
Photo: Welker Cranberries.

Photo: Welker Cranberries.

The Welker Cranberry Variety, tested as CNJ99-52-15 (US Patent & Canadian Plant Breeders' Rights pending), resulted from a 1999 cross between '#35' variety as the seed parent, with NJS98-34 as the pollen parent. The #35 variety is an unpatented variety from a 'Howes x Searles' cross from the 1940's USDA/NJAES Cranberry Breeding Program. NJS98-34 is a selection from a 'Ben Lear' x 'Franklin' cross. Welker was originally selected from 112 progeny from this cross growing in test plots at the Philip E. Marucci Center in Chatsworth, NJ, for its very high yield potential, precocious production, early to mid-season ripening, large ovate berry weighing an average of about two grams per berry, and uniform fruit color. In 2007, Welker was selected for further testing in advanced replicated selection trials in Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. Welker comes into significant production early, usually within three years, and exhibits consistently high yields with early to mid-season ripening. Flowering period is early, similar to 'Crimson Queen®' and 'Ben Lear'. Although originally selected under New Jersey's climate and soils, Welker is recommended specifically for 'oceanic climate' regions such as Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. The early flowering period of Welker will likely require early fungicide applications for fruit rot control. The Welker variety is currently available from Integrity Propagation for 2015 late summer or 2016 spring deliveries.

The Welker variety is named in honor of Dr. William V. Welker, a former USDA weed research scientist. After Dr. Welker completed his PhD in herbicide pest control from the University of Wisconsin, he accepted a USDA position at Rutgers University working with tree fruit, small fruits and cranberry weed control. Bill Welker was involved in getting glyphosate (RoundUp) herbicide, approved and label-registered for use on cranberry bogs and is credited with the 'hockey stick' weed wiping method of application. Philip Marucci commented, "today's cranberry growers might well consider RoundUp a miracle chemical".

In addition to his contributions to weed control, Bill Welker envisioned improved cranberry varieties through breeding. He collected samples of cranberry varieties as he traveled through the US and Canada, secured funding for a greenhouse to maintain this collection, and provided guidance, vision and support to the Rutgers Blueberry & Cranberry Research & Extension Center. He was influential in bringing USDA positions (Al Stretch, plant pathologist and Eric Stone, cranberry breeder) to the cranberry and blueberry center. Bill takes pride in the fact that he encouraged Dr. Vorsa to accept the Rutgers position as cranberry breeder.

Regarding his character and personality, Bill had a roundabout way of giving a compliment. His prior assessment of New Jersey growers as 'weed growers' was changed with his comment, "I'm delighted to see the inventiveness in weed wiper development and grower enthusiasm and cooperation are high". Bill and his wife, Barbara, are most proud of their four children, and their children's productive contributions to society.