James Hancock
James Hancock

A Michigan State University fruit breeder has been recognized for using innovation to solve real-world problems.

James Hancock, a horticulture professor, received the 2014 MSU Innovation Center Technology Transfer Achievement Award, according to a news release.

Hancock developed four of the world's most widely planted Northern highbush blueberry varieties: Aurora, Draper, Huron and Liberty. Altogether, more than 20 million blueberry plants of these varieties have been sold.

And his work has benefited the local industry.

“He has set the bar for blueberry breeding,” Ed Wheeler, a blueberry breeder for MBG Marketing, said in the release. “His varieties have done very well here, and they’ve started to go all over the world and change the types of blueberries that people grow.”

Hancock's varieties also do well in the Pacific Northwest and have allowed the industry to expand there, too.

He began his work in 1979, seeking varieties that not only had superior taste but also were adaptable to environmental stresses and disease and insect pressures.

Back then, one of the main varieties was Bluecrop, a midseason berry that left gaps at the beginning and end of the marketing window.

After 14 years of trials, Hancock ended up with six varieties that spanned the entire growing season. Three were released in 2004, and three more were released about five years ago.

Note on correction: The original article attributed the development of the Redhaven peach to the wrong person. Michigan State University Professor Stanley Johnston developed the peach.