A sturdier, crisper, and yummier apple

Bruce Barritt wanted to create a new apple variety. This is how he tasted his way to the Cosmic Crisp.

Back in 1988, Red Delicious made up 70 to 80 percent of the domestic apple market. Over the years, farmers sold a lot of them because they looked great. But they had a mealy texture, and people want an apple that’s firm, crisp, and juicy. I started lobbying for one. By 1994, threatened by varieties from Japan and New Zealand, the U.S. industry and Washington State University agreed that we had to grow our own.

First, we cross-pollinated existing apples: Collect pollen from one flower, put it on the tip of a pencil eraser, and rub it into another. We crossed dozens of crisp, flavorful varieties such as Gala, Fuji, and Pink Lady. But the best offspring came out of Honeycrisp and Enterprise parents. We grew the crossbred seeds into 5-foot trees, grafted those onto rootstocks (to make them start producing quickly), and planted them in evaluation orchards. A few years later, they fruited—and we began tasting.

You can’t eat thousands of apples a day. So I would walk down long rows of hundreds and thousands of trees, and when I found an ­attractive fruit, I’d bite, chew, spit it out. Most were terrible, but when I found one with good texture and flavor, I’d pick 10 or 20 of them. Then I put them in cold storage to see how they would hold up after a few months. After that, three or four researchers sat down and tasted every apple. We checked acidity and sugar levels, which can break down over time, and tested firmness and crispness using instruments that measure pressure and cell breakdown.

When we found exactly what we wanted, we planted clones and tested them all over again. Eventually, we ended up with the Cosmic Crisp. It can spend nine to 12 months in storage, and stay crisp, firm, juicy, sweet, and tart.

Article by Popular Science

Big Impacts

Here are a few ways Wenatchee’s WSU and USDA researchers have changed the tree-fruit industry:

Cosmic Crisp

Cosmic Crisp, a cross between a Honeycrisp and Enterprise, was bred by a team at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.

The breeding happened in 1997, followed by research to test how best to grow it and then name it. Its research name was WA-38. WSUassociate professor Kate Evans, who hails from England, has been working on the project since 2008, taking over for Bruce Barritt.

The apples, according to researchers, are easy to grow and store and are expected to rival Honeycrisp in terms to price point and demand. Honeycrisp apples sell for $50 to $70 a box. Others sell for about $30 a box.

The first 700,000 trees were sold to growers by lottery for planting in 2017. About 5 million are expected to be planted in 2018 and another 5 million in 2019, making it the largest roll-out of a new variety. About 200,000 40-pound boxes are expected to make it to market in 2019, jumping to 1.9 million 2020 and 9 million in 2022.

WSU gets royalties on trees sold for planting and on boxes of apples sold.

Evans is now working on a dwarfing pear rootstock, that would allow them to be grown on smaller trees, increasing density and allowing more efficient management.

Decision Aid System

The Decision Aid System is an online platform available to growers that mixes the latest research-based information with weather forecasts and their own spray history to help growers make decisions about pest and crop management.

The project is led by Vincent Jones, a WSU entomology professor.

“You know what you’ve sprayed, based on forecast you can predict what the control should be,” Jim McFerson said. “And you know what the impact is on the natural pested enemy. … It’s live, online and constantly updates.”

Shade netting

In addition to protecting against hail, photo-selective anti-hail nets also protect against plant stress and sunburn. That’s good news for Honeycrisp apples that have a tendency to get burned. The research on the effectiveness of the nets is part of a three-year research project, with trials done at McDougall and Sons orchards.

Integrated pest management

Keeping male codling moths distracted with pheromone-laced tags has become an established practice in pear and apple orchards.

“It’s a biological control to reduce the number of successful matings,” McFerson said. “If you combine that with other techniques, you chip away at the overall population in the orchard. The more orchardists that use it, the less a chance of an outbreak.”

It’s just one of the non-spray methods of pest control tested and perfected by WSU researchers in Wenatchee. It was first tested about 25 years ago. Research continues on how to refine the traps.

Another technique include spraying a virus that infects the moths.

“Over the past couple of decades, pest management practices have changed completely,” he said. “There’s not not one chemical that does everything. We’re not relying on that. There’s no magic bullet.”

Researchers also are gearing up for invasive pests they know are coming, like the spotted wing drosophila, a fruit fly imported from Asia.

“It’s exploded in a lot of the country. It really likes ripe fruit, like cherries or raspberries. So we have a new problem we didn’t have 10 years ago. When something like that pops up, we go into SWATteam mode,” he said, led by WSU Entomologist Elizabeth Beers.

Another invader Beers is developing strategies to control is the brown marmorated stink bug. 

Article by Nevonne McDaniels, Wenatchee Business World

Washington's new apple could be an industry game-changer

Cosmic Crisp apples. Photo by Karen Ducey for  Crosscut.

Cosmic Crisp apples. Photo by Karen Ducey for Crosscut.

Bye bye Red Delicious, there's a new apple in town: the Cosmic Crisp.

Bruce Barritt, Ph.D., is running around the apple orchard with his camera snapping pictures. He resembles a kind of horticultural Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He’s energetic, articulate and has a bounce for a guy in his 70s.

It is spring planting season and what’s taking place here in the hills east of Wenatchee is the elaborate choreography of putting in a new orchard. Multiple tractors are going back and forth opening rows of soil while workers drop small, twig-like trees into the furrows. Other workers follow behind covering the rootstock and trimming each tree as it’s planted. Hundreds of trees are planted in minutes. Watering systems and trellises follow.

It’s not uncommon to have a camera when an important birth is taking place, and make no mistake, this planting season is part of an elaborate gestation of a new apple variety that is designed to change the industry and consumer tastes. Barritt, emeritus professor of apple breeding at Washington State University, is the proud papa.

He has been working on this new apple for more than 20 years — since the mid-1990s — and now his dream is literally coming to fruition. “My kids don’t like me to say this but these are like my kids,” he says gesturing at the trees.

The patented name of the new apple is WA 38, but you will know it as the Cosmic Crisp. It is part of a huge bet the Washington apple industry is making to create a new variety that will supplant many of the old familiars, like the iconic Red Delicious. The Northwest, led by Washington, provides about two-thirds of America’s fresh apples and also nearly 75 percent of all U.S. apples, including those used for juice. The state’s apples also sell around the world. With funding from state growers and led by Barritt, WSU researchers have invented a new variety that, they believe, will change the face of the industry and win enthusiasm among the public with a combination of taste, texture and usability.

Just over 600,000 Cosmic Crips trees were in the ground in 2017, with some 7 million more being planted this year in 2018, and another 6 million next — a pace faster than expected. The new apple will be available to consumers in the fall of 2019 — it takes about two years for a new tree to bear fruit.

Barritt says growers will invest some $500 million planting the Cosmic Crisp over the next few years. Kathryn Grandy, director of marketing and operations for Proprietary Variety Management (PVM), a Yakima company tasked with introducing the apple to consumers, tells me it’s “the largest launch of a produce item” ever in the U.S.

According to PVM, Cosmic Crisp will begin to replace Galas, Fujis, Cameos, Braeburns and other varieties, including the Red and Golden Delicious.

Casey Corr, who just retired as managing editor of the industry publication Good Fruit Grower, says the apple has to be an instant success when it hits the supermarket. “It’s gotta be like the new iPhone,” Corr says.

Bruce Barrit examines nursery trees in the McDougall & Sons Inc. orchards in Wenatchee, WA.

Bruce Barrit examines nursery trees in the McDougall & Sons Inc. orchards in Wenatchee, WA.

The comparison seems apt. The Cosmic Crisp will reshape the apple market. It has been designed to be consumer, as well as grower friendly. It is a cross between two apple varieties, the popular Honeycrisp and the Enterprise. Its name derives from focus group folks who found that the little pores — lenticels — on the skin of the apple looked like “a starry sky” in the cosmos. It’s a good looking apple, important in markets but also important to those of us for whom the apple is a symbol. The apple is our state’s official fruit after all.

Rows of Cosmic Crisp nursery trees in the foreground dot the landscape in the McDougall & Sons Inc. orchards in Wenatchee, WA.

Rows of Cosmic Crisp nursery trees in the foreground dot the landscape in the McDougall & Sons Inc. orchards in Wenatchee, WA.

The Cosmic Crisp is big, mostly red and very juicy. Barritt says from the beginning the breeding program was designed with the consumer in mind. The apple market has changed over the years. Once staple varieties like Red and Golden Delicious were problematic — short shelve lives, bland flavors — and they’ve lost some popularity (sales peaked in 1994). Those varieties still sell and in some overseas markets like Japan, where tastes run to the familiar, the Red Delicious still is regarded as the ideal of what an apple should be, mostly due to its iconic shape and deep red color. Personally, though, I have never liked it. Other varieties have more flavor, better texture and are easier to grow. For those reasons some believe the Delicious is “obsolete.”

Scientist Kate Evans takes a bite of a Cosmic Crisp.

Scientist Kate Evans takes a bite of a Cosmic Crisp.

U.S. consumers like to be able to choose from more varieties these days. Many consumers, especially millennials, are willing to pay a premium for taste. That’s been the secret of Honeycrisp’s success — a good looking and tasting apple that commands a higher price. Part of the reasons for that cost: They are hard to grow and bruise easily.

The Cosmic Crisp has a number of advantages. It is slow to turn brown when cut. I had half of one in the car for six hours and it hadn’t even started to turn brown when I got it home. It keeps longer after harvest. Picked in September, the Cosmic Crisp in cold storage can last a year, extending its lifespan and reducing waste. It’s a 365-day-a-year apple designed to thrive in Eastern Washington’s apple friendly soils and climate, unlike varieties brought from overseas or the East Coast.

Barritt says that while benefits for growers are important, it’s taste that will make or break the variety. To that end, I visited WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee where I had a chance to discuss the Cosmic Crisp with Barritt and his successor overseeing research, Kate Evans, Ph.D.

We went down into a basement lab where vials filled with fluid from various Cosmic Crisps was being tested for acidity, which “provides the character of the apple,” says Barritt. It plays a key role in how any apple tastes, and learning to get the proper balance under differing growing conditions is important. Evans continues to conduct research on test trees in order to compile a grower’s manual for how to produce the optimum Cosmic Crisps.

The researchers take a batch of Cosmic Crisp apples out of the box. Barritt and Evans give some instruction on how to taste an apple. “Taste,” it turns out, is not just on the tongue. How does an apple sound when you bite into it? Does it crunch? Does the bite snap off in your mouth? What’s the texture like — smooth or mealy? Is the skin too thick? Is it juicy or dry? Taste involves all the sense before you even get to sweet or sour, the blend of flavors that make up an apple.

The WA 38 designation means it was the WSU team’s 38th attempt to get a new variety. Coming up with the perfect apple takes time. I was fully prepared to be disappointed — the industry hype and catering to mass tastes made me a little suspicious. While it’s not a GMO apple like the Arctic, you’re still talking about something created by scientists and commercial growers who are planting cloned trees.

But the Cosmic Crisp ticked every box: good looking, with a nice crunch and powerful snap, a beautiful sweet-tart balance, tons of juice trickling down the chin. I wasn’t overwhelmed by, say, hints of blueberry or a floral nose — the kinds of complexities wine tasters go on about. But it was one of the best apples I’ve ever eaten. In fact, my sample was the essence of apple.

People will continue to have their brand loyalties — I have talked to colleagues who’ve tasted the Cosmic Crisp and swear they will not give up their Fujis or Granny Smiths, but they are in the minority. WSU’s Evans is a tad nervous. The apple represents “a lot of trees, a lot of fruit for a new apple variety.” Growers are a little concerned with flooding the market as so many new Crisp orchards come on line. Will there be a glut? Will consumers embrace the new breed?

Alex Goke, a research assistant, polishes some Cosmic Crisp apples at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, WA.

Alex Goke, a research assistant, polishes some Cosmic Crisp apples at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, WA.

The Washington apple industry has come together on marketing and backing the Cosmic Crisp. From a competitive business standpoint, they’ll have a 10-year head start on other growers. WSU owns the intellectual property rights to WA 38 and Washington growers and taxpayers funded much of the research. State growers will have a 10-year exclusive to license and grow the apples in North America. WSU will seek patents in other countries, in the expectation that the variety will eventually spread. In other words, this apple is a unique, proprietary brand. If it catches on, it will be a boon for its home state.

The launch is not without a hitch, however. WSU and one of its partners, Phytelligence, a company founded by another WSU researcher that has a system for speeding up crop production, are involved in court battle over the rights to propagate Cosmic Crisps. The dispute is currently in federal court. Phytelligence says it wants to speed up the propagation process; WSU maintains the company violated its contract with the university and its intellectual property rights. The dispute doesn’t seem to be holding up the apple’s debut, however.

Barritt, who could not comment on the suit, is still feeling that new parent glow, and says he has little fear about the debut. He believes they have covered their research bases. The growers know what they’re doing and have deep experience adapting to market and growing conditions. The commercial apple business in Washington dates back to the 1880s; the first orchard was planted by the Hudson Bay Company in the 1820s, and one of those trees still lives and produces fruit — a fitting symbol of the industry’s durability.

Looking out over a vast orchard of his “children,” the professor says he feels the pride of any inventor about to see his creation go to market. “My employer,” he says, “was the people of the state of Washington.” He believes his invention will be rewarding for the people of the state. “I’m not anxious,” Barritt says.

Standing in the Wenatchee orchard he’s excited. Looking at the newly planted hills covered with thousands of Cosmic Crisp trees he says, “I see nothing on the horizon that will prevent its success.”

My taste buds agree.

A sign welcomes visitors to Wenatchee, WA.

A sign welcomes visitors to Wenatchee, WA.

Article by Knute Berger, & Video by Eric Keto, KCTS9 & Crosscut

COSMIC CRISP POTENTIAL

Jeff Samples, an agronomy consultant with Bleyhl Farm Service, scouts for damage and signs of disease and pests on the branches of Cosmic Crisp apple trees at a trellis training orchards at the Washington State University Irrigated Agricultur Research Extension Center in Prosser, Wash. on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Washington State University and a Seattle-based company are in litigation about an agreement between the two. Photo by Shawn Gust,  Yakima Hearald-Republic.

Jeff Samples, an agronomy consultant with Bleyhl Farm Service, scouts for damage and signs of disease and pests on the branches of Cosmic Crisp apple trees at a trellis training orchards at the Washington State University Irrigated Agricultur Research Extension Center in Prosser, Wash. on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Washington State University and a Seattle-based company are in litigation about an agreement between the two. Photo by Shawn Gust, Yakima Hearald-Republic.

It’s an apple that could upset the cart. Or at least disrupt it a bit.

Washington growers are so excited about the Cosmic Crisp’s potential, they already planted a half-million trees and plan to add another 5 million this year.

Consumers will have to wait until fall of 2019 before these new apples hit the marketplace. But behind the scenes, there’s a courtroom battle brewing between one of the state’s major universities and a Seattle agricultural technology company over who has the right to sell the trees.

But whatever happens, it’s not dampening growers’ enthusiasm for what  they see as a game-changing variety of apple.

“I’m excited to see how it will disrupt the apple market,” said Mark Hanrahan, a Buena grower who has planted the trees.

The apple

The story begins in 1998 when Washington State University professor Bruce Barritt crossed the Honey Crisp and Enterprise to create the Cosmic Crisp, named in part for the lenticels on its bright red skin and its crunchy texture.

But its qualities are more than skin deep.

“It has great flavor, very juicy,” said Phil Weiler, WSU vice president for marketing and communication. “From a retailer’s perspective, it has a great shelf life. It can be stored for a year or more” without losing flavor or texture.

Further, Cosmic Crisps don’t quickly turn brown quickly after being cut.

The apples could be worth a fortune. Many consumers, long weary of Washington’s once standard Red Delicious, have shown they are willing to pay more for new and better fruits. At one Yakima Valley store, Honey Crisp apples are sold for three times as much as Red Delicious. Growers are expected to produce 175,000 boxes of Cosmic Crisps in 2019, with projected crop yields of 13.5 million boxes in 2023, Brandt said.

Hanrahan said Cosmic Crisp represents a coordinated effort between the fruit industry and the university in developing and marketing a new variety.

The apple’s development was financed in part by a group of Washington apple growers, who in return will have exclusive right to produce Cosmic Crisps for at least 10 years in North America starting in 2019, Weiler said.

Among those preparing to plant this year is Scott McIlrath, a Naches area grower who hopes to plant trees this week.

“It has a lot of potential,” McIlrath said, noting its long shelf life.

Article by Donald W. Meyer, Yakima Herald

The Next Big Apple Variety Was Bred for Deliciousness in Washington

Created at Washington State University, the Cosmic Crisp is growing beyond Cougar country.

Washington state is widely known as one of the best places in the world to grow apples, but it isn’t particularly well known for breeding them — a fact that bothered growers like Robert Kershaw and scientists like Bruce Barritt in the 1990s.

“When I got out of college, I was absolutely shocked that our industry was Reds and Goldens and that any new variety seemed to come from some other country,” says Kershaw, whose family started growing pears and apples in Yakima in the 1900s. “All the cool stuff was coming from somewhere else.”

Washington’s most successful apple, the Red Delicious, was developed in Iowa. The Golden Delicious got its start in West Virginia, the Gala in New Zealand and the Granny Smith in Australia. The Fuji was bred in Japan and the hugely popular — and expensive — Honeycrisp was created in Minnesota (and became Minnesota’s official state fruit in 2006).

Growers know it can take 20 to 30 years to breed and select a new variety viable enough for commercialization. And in the 1990s, the state’s reliance on the Red Delicious — notorious for looking appetizing even when it turns mealy from long storage — was leading the industry into a tailspin. It ultimately would cause some growers, packers and other industry players to go out of business.

Horticulturalist Barritt also thought the state’s popular varieties were obsolete and was already lobbying Washington State University (WSU) and the industry to fund an apple breeding program, which eventually began in 1994. Barritt’s quest for better commercial apples has resulted in what growers and industry players believe will replace the aging Red Delicious and the grass-roots consumer favorite, the Honeycrisp. 

The new apple, a variety named WA 38 by researchers and branded the Cosmic Crisp for marketing purposes, is leading WSU into uncharted territory. The university and its Yakima-based commercialization partner, Proprietary Variety Management (PVM), are trying to refine a new industry economic model being used for “premium” apple varieties. The model replaces the old “push” system, in which everyone involved — breeder, nursery operator, grower, packer, marketer and retailer — pushed varieties such as red delicious that were less prone to bruising, could be stored for a year, had a long shelf life, were easy to grow and weren’t susceptible to disease. The new “pull” approach is designed to get the customer involved earlier in the process via consumer research and feedback. Think taste tests and focus groups. Not surprisingly, consumers want varietes that are red, juicy, crunchy, taste good and don’t turn brown quickly. 

“The consumer has the money. We want the money. So, we have to find out what they want in order to get the money. It’s as simple as that,” argues PVM President Lynnell Brandt. Cosmic Crisp, it turns out, meets the criteria set out by both growers and consumers. 

WSU and PVM are launching Cosmic Crisp at a time when more than 20 other varieties with premium aspirations are hitting the market. Even so, grower enthusiasm for Cosmic Crisp is so strong that the apple’s launch will be the biggest ever. If all goes well, it will be the state’s — and WSU’s — first commercially successful home-bred apple.

Bred by WSU’s Barritt, now retired, and his successor, Professor Kate Evans, the Cosmic Crisp is a dark burgundy-red apple with star-like flecks, or lenticels, that helped give the apple its name. It’s a cross between the Enterprise and the Honeycrisp. Earlier this year, 35 growers in Washington — the only ones allowed to grow Cosmic Crisp — planted an unprecedented number of the new trees, about 630,000 in all.

Demand for the new variety was so great that WSU and PVM held a random, computer-generated lottery in 2014 to award the first trees because there weren’t enough for every Washington grower who wanted in on the action. An additional 5.5 million trees have been ordered for 2018 by many of the 445 applicants who failed to win the initial lottery; 5.5 million more trees are expected to be planted in 2019.

At 11.6 million trees in a mere three years, the number of Cosmic Crisp trees planted and ordered exceeds the total number of trees currently in production in Michigan, the country’s third-largest apple-producing state, which boasts 11 million trees.

It also represents the fastest ramp-up of any variety — and it has some people worried. Nearly 12 million trees are 10 times the typical amount planted at this stage of development, and it is occurring in just three years, not the 20 years it took the last consumer favorite, the Honeycrisp, to reach such volume. 

Cosmic Crisp growers are ripping out old, less profitable varieties, often upgrading by planting more intensively with dwarfing rootstock, “V” or upright trellises, and planting 1,200 to 1,800 trees per acre. Typically, there are 110 to 120 very large trees per acre in older Red or Golden Delicious orchards.

Growers are upgrading hundreds of acres at a cost of some $35,000 per acre, more than $60,000 if they are buying new land. But because the Cosmic Crisp is bred for dense planting, fewer than 1,500 acres can accommodate 2 million trees. The cost to Washington growers is estimated at $40 million.

So, why are apple growers willing to make this multimillion-dollar bet?

“A number of things are coming together at the same time to make it very exciting and intriguing,” says PVM’s Brandt, who also runs Brandt’s Fruit Trees in Yakima. “[Cosmic Crisp] was bred here for our conditions and it is a ‘wow’ apple. It really has exceptional eating quality, exceptional storage, exceptional shelf life and it doesn’t have much, if any, oxidation.”

Because it is slow to brown, the Cosmic Crisp doesn’t need to be kept in low-oxygen storage It also is hardier than the Honeycrisp, which can succumb to rot and mildew in the field — it’s not uncommon for half of a Honeycrisp crop to be left in the orchard — and to punctures and bruising in the packing house. 

“It’s the right thing for the right time,” Brandt waxes on about Cosmic Crisp. “The industry is recognizing their flagship Red Delicious is declining in popularity and reputation, and there is need to find a superior flagship. The hope is that this selection can be that apple.”

Brandt and other growers won’t know how consumers will react to the apple until 2019 or, more likely, 2020. Limited amounts of Cosmic Crisp will officially hit a small number of supermarkets in 2019, when Brandt’s computer models expect the young trees to bear their first fruit and to produce about 170,000 40-pound boxes.

Typically, a single grower, or maybe a handful, will bet on a new variety, and it takes 10 years or more to get a million trees planted. That volume can produce enough apples to fulfill regional orders; more trees are then needed to fill national demand. Year-round distribution requires an even larger volume of apples and trees. And that’s what Washington growers are shooting for.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen a variety that has to be an instant hit because there’s so much production going in on the front end,” says Kaari Stannard, owner and president of New York Apple Sales in Glenmont, New York, and secretary of the U.S. Apple Association.

“There’s no gentle curve leading up to it.”

Smaller apple-producing states simply can’t come up with that volume, she says. Washington state has about 165,000 bearing acres of apples and produces 65 to 70 percent of the nation’s supply. That’s more than twice the combined total of bearing acres in New York, the second-largest apple-producing state, and Michigan, according to 2016 USDA figures.

“We’re just waiting to see what kind of standards they set and how they plan to bring it to market,” Stannard says. “It’s going to be a very interesting story.”

Growers are betting the Cosmic Crisp will command a premium price, much like the Honeycrisp, which changed the economics of the commercial apple industry. Bred at the University of Minnesota, the Honeycrisp was the first widely accepted, patented, premium-priced apple. It fetches an average of $3.49 a pound in stores today and still brings to growers $50 to $60 per box. 

. . .

The marketing of Cosmic Crisp falls to an advisory committee headed up by Kershaw, who was drafted after he gave WSU and PVM an earful about the bungled WA 2 launch.

“I thought I offended them so badly that they’d never talk to me again,” Kershaw says. “But two days later, they called me and said, ‘We liked all your ideas. We’re going with them and want you to be chairman of the marketing committee.’

“I thought the Cosmic Crisp would ramp up moderately,” he adds. “I didn’t expect everyone to decide to plant 10 million trees. We’ve gone from a variety you couldn’t launch to one that’s almost launching so fast that it’s scary.”

Kathryn Grandy, who leads marketing for PVM, says the promotional budget for Cosmic Crisp and its official funding source have yet to be determined. No doubt the budget will need to be in the multiple millions. At the height of its national promotion of fresh apples in 2000, the Washington Apple Commission spent $8 million to market Washington-grown apples. Today, the organization only handles international sales.

In an unprecedented display of cooperation, 13 marketing groups in Washington are setting aside their rivalry to work together to market Cosmic Crisp and advise PVM. They have already agreed to leave their own packing-house names out of any advertising and plan to use Washington Apple as secondary branding.

Of course, some are skeptical that individual competitors can work together. The Cosmic Crisp committee members “already have their own varieties and built-in incentives to push their own premium varieties with retailers,” says O’Rourke. “It’s going to be a weakness of the Cosmic Crisp. Stemilt [Growers] has SweeTango, CMI and Ambrosia, and Oppenheimer [Group] has a huge incentive to promote Jazz and Envy. And those are the folks on the Cosmic Crisp marketing committee.”

Kershaw counters: “There are just five marketing teams that do 80 percent or more of the state’s apple marketing, so it’s easy to talk strategy versus 30 years ago, when the Washington Apple Commission was promoting and there were 60 or 70 marketers. We’ve always been competitors, but we’re currently working together on this project, and it’s going pretty well so far.”

The industry is still a few years away from knowing if America will warm to this large, juicy apple with a remarkably firm and crisp texture. But Kershaw, whose family has been growing apples for five generations, sees both economic promise and a measure of bragging rights at the core of Cosmic Crisp’s gestation. 

“If we’re successful and the royalty dollars come back to the industry and the research department,” he muses, “maybe my grandkids will be able to say they get all the best varieties from Washington research and breeding programs.”

Article by M. Sharon Baker, Seattle Business Magazine

'Washington Grower' features Cosmic Crisp on TV

An episode of TV’s "Washington Grown" series featuring Washington apples is scheduled to air this weekend.

The Washington Apple Commission, with the help of production company North By Northwest, created segments for the show, according to a news release.

"Washington Grown" showcases agricultural products from the state and shows “behind the scenes” footage of growing and production, the release said, as well as visits to local restaurants. The show is in its fifth season.

The episode includes a visit to Legacy Orchard and an explanation of the pollination process, according to a news release.

It will also feature a talk with Cosmic Crisp apple variety breeder Bruce Barritt and a history lesson with a visit to the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center.

The show ends with a visit to the Wenatchee Apple Blossom Festival, with an interview with the Apple Blossom queen.

The episode airs 5 p.m. Pacific Saturday on KIMA, 2:30 p.m. Sunday on KOMO4 and 7 p.m. Sunday streaming live from "Washington Grown’s" Facebook page.

On Oct. 23, the video will be available on YouTube.

Article by Jessica MacCallum, The Packer

A New Apple to Get Your Teeth Into

After 30 years’ experimentation, farmers in Washington state are ready for the biggest ever planting of a new variety of apple.

How do you like them apples? Lead scientist Dr Kate Evans at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center. Photograph: Ted S. Warren/AP

How do you like them apples? Lead scientist Dr Kate Evans at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center. Photograph: Ted S. Warren/AP

Nearly 30 years ago, Dr Bruce Barritt was jeered when he branded the apple industry in Washington state a dinosaur for growing obsolete varieties such as red and golden delicious. Now, farmers in the state, where 70% of US apples are grown, are ripping up millions of trees and replacing them with a new variety, the cosmic crisp, which Barritt, a horticulturalist, has created in the decades since.

With 12m trees to be planted by 2020, and the first harvest of apples due in the shops in 2019, it is the biggest ever launch of a new apple. Around 10m 40lb boxes are expected to be produced in the next four years, compared with the usual 3-5m for a new variety. It’s a gamble for growers: replanting costs up to $50,000 per acre, so the cosmic crisp needs to fetch top dollar to make their investment worthwhile.

Barritt began his quest for the perfect apple in the 1980s, after being hired by Washington State University (WSU).

“I had two projects,” he says. “The orchards being grown were inefficient – big trees that required ladders, poor fruit quality because of shade in the trees… That was a problem I could tackle. But I thought the most important problem was that, at the time in Washington, 90% of the crop was red delicious and golden delicious – they’re not crisp, juicy or flavourful. I was giving a talk to 2,000 industry people and I told them these were obsolete. It didn’t go down well. If I asked them why they were still growing these varieties, they’d say ‘Because we grow them better than anybody else.’ That wasn’t good enough, because the consumer wasn’t happy.”

Barritt was convinced better varieties had to be developed, and made available to every farmer in the state (new varieties such as jazz and ambrosia are often only licensed to small clubs of growers). He spent six years lobbying the industry in Washington and the university for money to fund a breeding programme, which began in 1994.

“It’s a traditional breeding programme, not genetically modified; it’s hybridising existing varieties,” he explains. “All the traits important in an apple – the flavour, juiciness, crispness – are controlled by many genes. Our knowledge of genetics is not good enough to collect all those genes together and change them with genetic modification.”

Sweet but not too sweet. proof is in the tasting for the cosmic crisp. Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP

Sweet but not too sweet. proof is in the tasting for the cosmic crisp. Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP

Barritt created thousands of seedlings by cross-pollinating the blossoms of parent trees. “When they come into bearing, we walk the long rows and bite, chew and spit, because you can’t eat a lot of apples at once – your taste buds lose their sensitivity. The majority you bite into are terrible, but eventually you come up with ones that are good.”

The cosmic crisp, so named because of its yellow star-like flecks on a burgundy skin, is a cross between the honeycrisp and the enterprise. “Honeycrisp’s claim to fame is its crispness; it also has good sugar and acid and texture. Enterprise is large, full-coloured, stores well and is firm. It’s got good acidity and flavour in general.” Enterprise is also known for its resistance to fire blight.

The tree selected was known as WA38. “It was promising, so we made 15 trees and planted those in three locations in central Washington, and looked at those for three or four years of fruiting. We still liked it, so we made 200 trees of the same one and planted it in four sites in commercial orchards. We wanted to see how they performed in the hands of growers.”

Around this time, Barritt retired. Dr Kate Evans, a British horticulturalist who had been leading breeding programmes for East Malling Research in Kent, took over.

Testing of the apple continued and it was patented in 2014, with Barritt named as the “inventor”. For the next 10 years, it will only be available to US farmers in Washington, because they helped fund the breeding programme.

Evans said: “Outside the US, new varieties go through a variety rights application – you test them in different locations and compare them to varieties out there so that it can be seen they’re different and novel. In the US they don’t do that; it’s a plant patent system – like [with] any other invention, you submit an application that describes it in detail.”

Every cosmic crisp tree is a clone of the WA38 “mother tree”, which remains in WSU’s research orchard near Wenatchee. Buds from one tree are grafted on to existing apple tree roots. These buds grow into copies of the original tree.

To meet demand, nurseries are reproducing the trees on a massive scale. This year, there were only 600,000 available, which were allocated to growers using a draw.

Stemilt Growers, a fruit company in Wenatchee, has planted 180,000 trees. Its president, West Mathison, said: “The apple has got great flavour. The crunch is really consistent. There’s more strength in the connective tissue of the cells than the cell walls themselves, so your teeth break through the cells and flavour, and juice is released. It has a unique flavour – sweet but not too sweet, and a little bit of acid, so it has some complexity. It’s also got a really nice storage life. I’m planting it on an old golden delicious block. Red and golden are falling out of favour with the market,” Mathison said. “It’s definitely a gamble. We don’t know yet what the retail price will be.”

Barritt, however, is confident the apple will be a winner. “This variety has been tested in the research setting, in grower orchards, in cold storage and with consumers more than any other apple in the world,” he says. “I’m not nervous.”

Article by Lucy Rock, The Guardian

This Is What It Looks Like When A New Apple Comes To Town

Apricot trees are removed to make way for Cosmic Crisp. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Apricot trees are removed to make way for Cosmic Crisp. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Apple growers in Washington state, who dominate American apple production, are starting to plant a new kind of apple. It's the fastest launch of a new variety in history.

These farmers have been looking for a new variety to grow. Older types of apples, like Red Delicious, have fallen out of favor among American consumers. So growers are ripping out old fruit trees — in this case, apricot trees — to make way for an apple variety called Cosmic Crisp. It's the most successful result so far of an apple breeding effort that Bruce Barritt began at Washington State University more than 20 years ago.

Bruce Baritt, retired apple breeder. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Bruce Baritt, retired apple breeder. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Barritt selected the tree called WA 38 — now branded as Cosmic Crisp — from among thousands of seedings that he created by cross-pollinating the blossoms of parent trees. Cosmic Crisp, he says, preserves its taste better than any other variety during months of storage. "Crispness, juiciness, acidity, sugar; all that combined just doesn't exist in any other variety," he says.

Cosmic Crisp was just released for commercial planting, and this spring, apple growers are planting all the trees that they can get their hands on. They've reportedly ordered 12 million Cosmic Crisp trees for planting over the next few years.

Workers and freshly planted Cosmic Crisp trees in an orchard owned by McDougall and Sons, near Wenatchee, WA. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Workers and freshly planted Cosmic Crisp trees in an orchard owned by McDougall and Sons, near Wenatchee, WA. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Replanting can cost more than $50,000 per acre. Farmers say that they'll need premium prices for these apples in order to recoup that investment. If Cosmic Crisp apples sell only for the same price as, say, Gala apples, "it'll be a wreck," says farmer Jan Luebber. So these new plantings are a big gamble for apple growers.

The Cosmic Crisp mother tree. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

The Cosmic Crisp mother tree. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Every Cosmic Crisp tree is derived from this original "mother tree," which still stands where it was planted 20 years ago, in a research orchard managed by Washington State University. It's been reproduced through old-fashioned cloning techniques, grafting buds from one tree onto existing apple tree roots. Those buds grow into copies of the original tree.

Tree nurseries like Willow Drive Nursery, in the town of Ephrata, Wash., play a key role in the Cosmic Crisp launch. They reproduce these trees on a massive scale, growing new trees from each bud that forms on existing trees in their "mother orchard." Each fall, nurseries dig up these small trees and move them into cold storage, ready for planting in orchards the following spring.

Cosmic Crisp trees ready for planting at Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, WA. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Cosmic Crisp trees ready for planting at Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, WA. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

The first Cosmic Crisp apples will be available for sale in the fall of 2019. Within a few years, Washington's apple growers may know whether they bet they've placed on this new variety will pay off.

Apples put out for taste tests are (from left): Honeycrisp, Jazz, Gala, Red Delicious, and Cosmic Crisp. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Apples put out for taste tests are (from left): Honeycrisp, Jazz, Gala, Red Delicious, and Cosmic Crisp. Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Article by Dan Charles, Northwest Public Radio