New apple varieties and new orchards come to Kittitas

Recently planted apples trees cover a hillside along Payne Road in the Badger Pocket area, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Photo by Brian Myrick, Daily Record.

Recently planted apples trees cover a hillside along Payne Road in the Badger Pocket area, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Photo by Brian Myrick, Daily Record.

Apple orchards continue to expand in Kittitas County as fruit companies buy hay fields and replant them with new, and never before seen, varieties of fruit.

Recently planted apples trees cover a hillside along Payne Road in the Badger Pocket area, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Photo by Brian Myrick, Daily Record.

Recently planted apples trees cover a hillside along Payne Road in the Badger Pocket area, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Photo by Brian Myrick, Daily Record.

A big reason for the change is because of the weather conditions in Kittitas County, which are milder than areas like Yakima, said Rafael Garcia, area manager for the Zirkle Fruit Company in Kittitas County. Honeycrisp and similar varieties grow too big in hotter weather.

“The quality of the fruit that we’re picking is really good and that’s why we’re putting more orchards in here,” Garcia said. “Because the summer is shorter and we can control the size better.”

Zirkle Fruit Company has around 600 acres of land in Kittitas County and the company is putting in new orchards up on Payne Road, he said.

Next year the company might also start planting cosmic crisp in Kittitas County, Garcia said. A new variety of apple created by Washington State University that is a cross between the enterprise and a honeycrisp varieties. The company plans on establishing around 100 acres next year, but hasn’t decided the trees’ exact locations.

Cosmic Crisp™ brand apples were created by the Washington State University tree fruit breeding program by crossing an enterprise apple with a honeycrisp. The apples trees will be released in a limited number to growers in 2017.

Cosmic Crisp™ brand apples were created by the Washington State University tree fruit breeding program by crossing an enterprise apple with a honeycrisp. The apples trees will be released in a limited number to growers in 2017.

Cosmic Crisp

The cosmic crisp apple was created by Washington State University’s tree fruit breeding program and the research was funded by Washington state apple growers, said Kathryn Grandy, director of marketing and operations with Propriety Variety Management.

Propriety Variety Management was selected by Washington State University to market the new apple, she said. The variety has a more firm texture and crisp bite and so far has received positive reviews. It will be grown exclusively by Washington farmers.

“When I’ve eaten a cosmic crisp one of the things I like personally the skin is firm where it protects the apple,” Grandy said. “It’s got really crispy, firm, white flesh. You sink your teeth in it there is an audible crunch and then the burst of juice.”

The apple gets its name from the yellow speckles on its dark red skin, which almost look like a starburst pattern.

The main benefits to the fruit is that it stores longer than other varieties and is less susceptible to diseases like water core and bitter pit, she said.

“People really love red apples and they will be available year round and in a large enough supply that we can really fill orders with the large retailers across the country,” Grandy said.

Washington apple growers needed a new variety of apple to excite the market, she said. Interest in types like red delicious has started to die off, but Washington state still produces close to 70 percent of all the apples in the United States.

“Growers are pulling the trees out because the consumer taste buds have changed a lot and people want a firmer apple, a crisper apple and far juicer and sweet,” Grandy said.

There is a lot of potential for the apple to take off in markets both domestically and internationally, she said. Washington remains a prime region due to its healthy soils, warm days and cool nights.

About 600,000 to 700,000 of the apple trees will be planted this year. Next year that number will go up to 1.5 million and the trend will continue for several years to come.

Article by Tony Buhr, Daily Record

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

Washington Apple Growers Sink Their Teeth Into The New Cosmic Crisp

A worker takes a break after planting young Cosmic Crisp trees in an orchard near Wenatchee, WA. Photo by Dan Charles,NPR.

A worker takes a break after planting young Cosmic Crisp trees in an orchard near Wenatchee, WA. Photo by Dan Charles,NPR.

Get ready for a new kind of apple. It's called Cosmic Crisp, and farmers in Washington state, who grow 70 percent of the country's apples, are planting these trees by the millions. The apples themselves, dark red in color with tiny yellow freckles, will start showing up in stores in the fall of 2019.

Scott McDougall is one of the farmers who's making a big bet on Cosmic Crisp.

"It goes back to believing in the apple," he says.

"You believe?" I ask.

"I believe!" he says, and chuckles.

Planting has begun at one of his company's orchards near the city of Wenatchee. It's a spectacular site — a giant natural amphitheater in the hills above the Columbia River.

As we watch, a slow-moving tractor slices open the bare earth, and two men carefully lower delicate tree roots into the opening, one tree every three feet. These are among the first of about 400,000 Cosmic Crisp trees that McDougall and Sons expects to plant over the next few years. Across the state, 12 million of the trees have been ordered. That first wave of plantings will deliver about 5 million 40-pound boxes of Cosmic Crisp apples to grocery stores.

"Hitting 5 million boxes right away, that's never happened with any other variety that we've ever planted in Washington state," McDougall says.

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

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

For comparison, it took the popular variety Honeycrisp 20 years after it was introduced to reach that level of production.

Why this phenomenal success? First of all, the apple tastes great, even after months in storage, McDougall says. But that's not the only reason.

A lot of apple farmers in Washington have been looking to switch from the varieties that they've grown for decades — in particular, Red Delicious. That variety is still the single most widely grown apple in the state, but it's fallen out of favor with American consumers. Prices have sometimes fallen so low that growers simply discarded part of their harvest.

Many potential alternatives, though, have problems of their own. Honeycrisp is loved by consumers but is difficult to grow. Many other hot new apples, like Opal or Jazz, are only available to small clubs of growers.

Cosmic Crisp, though, is open to every farmer in Washington state. The tree is vigorous and produces lots of fruit. Also, it's ready for harvest at that same time as Red Delicious, which is a crucial consideration for big-time apple growers who are trying to coordinate the harvest of several different varieties.

"You've kind of got the best of all worlds," McDougall says.

Patent holder Bruce Barritt stops by the mother of all Cosmic Crisp trees. Cosmic Crisp was the result of a breeding project at Washington State University in the 1990s.  Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

Patent holder Bruce Barritt stops by the mother of all Cosmic Crisp trees. Cosmic Crisp was the result of a breeding project at Washington State University in the 1990s.  Photo by Dan Charles, NPR.

The man who's listed on a patent as the inventor of Cosmic Crisp, Bruce Barritt, drove five hours from Canada to see these trees go into the ground.

Barritt is 74 years old now. He takes pictures of the newly planted trees like a proud parent.

"They are my children," he says. "Just like your kids who are 18 years old, we don't know a lot about them yet. Four years from now, we'll know whether they're the real thing."

Two decades ago, when Barritt was working for Washington State University, he persuaded the university and the state's apple industry to pay for an effort to create new and tastier apple varieties.

"We knew that it would be about 20 years before we had anything of significance — if we were lucky!" he says.

Washington state hired a private company to handle the commercial launch of the new apple. They named it Cosmic Crisp because the apple's flecks of yellow reminded someone of stars in the sky. Photo by Bruce Baritt.

Washington state hired a private company to handle the commercial launch of the new apple. They named it Cosmic Crisp because the apple's flecks of yellow reminded someone of stars in the sky. Photo by Bruce Baritt.

He started the work of apple breeding — first taking pollen from blossoms of some trees and fertilizing the blossoms of others, creating thousands of new genetic combinations. Then he collected the apples that resulted from this cross-fertilization and grew new little trees from their seeds. He watched those trees produce their own apples, all different from one another. "Some green ones, some yellow ones, some red ones. Some little ones, some big ones," Barritt recalls.

Barritt says he'd spend days walking those rows, searching for a superior apple. Hundreds of times each day, he'd take a bite. "Your taste sensors, sugar and acid, kick in, and you'll either enjoy it or you won't. And then you spit it out," he says.

He doesn't remember the day in 1997 when he took a bite of an apple from the tree that was labeled WA 38. But it must have made a good impression because he and his colleagues kept it around.

It's still there, in a research orchard near Wenatchee. Most of the orchard is filled with rows of young seedlings, the latest products of Washington state's breeding program. At the far end of the orchard, though, stands the original WA 38 "mother tree."

Every one of the millions of Cosmic Crisp trees now growing in orchards and nurseries is a clone of this tree.

Barritt and his colleagues duplicated it the old-fashioned way, cutting buds from its branches and splicing, or grafting, those buds onto existing apple tree roots. The buds grew into new WA 38 trees.

For almost two decades, people in the apple industry studied those trees, tasting the apples. The more they learned, the more they liked it.

Tom Auvil, who worked for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, says that when they took boxes of different varieties to events with apple growers, it was the box of WA 38 that got cleaned out. "This happened every year," he says. "We never bring any WA 38 home."

Auvil says the apple has that sought-after crisp, cracking sensation when you bite into it. It has sweetness and acid; almost a sensory overload for your tongue.

Washington state hired a private company to handle the commercial launch of the new apple. They named it Cosmic Crisp because the apple's flecks of yellow reminded someone of stars in the sky. Farmers finally got a chance to plant these trees in their own orchards this spring. For now, it's only available to farmers in Washington, since they helped support the breeding program that created it.

The flood of orders has astonished almost everybody in the industry. In fact, it's provoking some anxiety. After all, consumers haven't even seen Cosmic Crisp yet. Nobody really knows if they'll like it.

Tom Auvil, who's been a Cosmic Crisp booster, calls the wave of orders "just an amazing level of investment. I just hope somebody doesn't drive up my driveway and say, 'You got me into this, now get me out of it!' "

A few years from now, when stores are full of Cosmic Crisp apples, those farmers will find out whether this was a smart bet.

Article by Northwest Public Radio (NPR)

Cosmic Crisp apples will revolutionize industry, farmers say

Farmers in the Pacific Northwest say the hottest new apple variety is really out-of-this-world.

The Cosmic Crisp, named for the yellow star-like specks that dot its deep red skin, has become extremely popular with growers in Washington, who have already planted upwards of 12 million Cosmic Crisp apple trees across the state, reports NPR.

In fact, Washington farmers are so invested in the Cosmic Crisp, that they plan to deliver their first shipment of the new variety — 5 million 40-pound boxes — to supermarkets in 2019.

To put that into perspective, it took farmers around 20 years to reach the same output of Honeycrisp apples after they first hit the market.

"Hitting 5 million boxes right away, that's never happened with any other variety that we've ever planted in Washington state," said Scott McDougall, an apple farmer who spoke with NPR.

But why are farmers so confident consumers will love the Cosmic Crisp?

Well, for starters, experts say they’re incredibly crisp, and deliver the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity-- plus they're "slower to brown" than other apple varieties after they're cut. What’s more, the apple trees themselves are hardier than other varieties, making them easier to grow and harvest. They also bear fruit at the same time as Red Delicious apples — which have grown less and less popular among consumers — making them a prime candidate for a replacement.

And when it comes to longevity, Cosmic Crisps are reported to retain their flavor for up to a year when stored properly. 

However, developing the Cosmic Crisp apple wasn’t an easy undertaking. Bruce Barritt, who holds the patent on the apple variety, started working on the Cosmic Crisp over 20 years ago as part of an experiment for Washington State University fruit breeding program.

Now, Barritt is just hoping his efforts will pay off.

"They are my children," Barritt told NPR. "Just like your kids who are 18 years old, we don't know a lot about them yet. Four years from now, we'll know whether they're the real thing."

Article by Fox News

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