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

Ag Weather Impacts - Apple Pollination

Dennis: The bees were a buzzin this past week as nearly perfect pollination weather was at hand. Yesterday, I talked with Mike Bush, long time WSU extension specialist in Yakima about the apple crop.

Mike: Based on the weather forecasts and the weather we’ve had in the past week, there has been a lot of bee activity and anything that is in bloom at this time is going to be well set.

Dennis: After the fruit is set, growers will be monitoring for pests and disease potential:

Mike: Those growers that are in the post bloom stage have probably already put out their mating disruption ties and within a week or two the growers will start putting out their sprays for coddling moth.

Dennis: Over the past 20 years, Mike has seen apple varieties evolve. HoneyCrisp has risen to be the one of the most popular at the fruit stands followed by Fuji and Gala, but there is a new variety that WSU has on limited release:

Mike: Cosmic Crisp, it does have Honey Crisp in its lineage, does have the good unique flavor that Honey Crisp does, except sweeter, it stores well, does not brown quite as fast.

Dennis: So be looking for Cosmic Crisp in the next few years. My Thanks to WSU’s Mike Bush.

Article by Dennis Hull, Ag Info


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

Supermarkets excited about new, bright red Cosmic Crisp (TM) apple

In the fall of 2019, American supermarkets will have a new apple on their shelves, and the new variety will be available for export markets a year after that. The Cosmic Crisp (TM) is an extension of the existing supply, Rebecca Lyons of Washington Apple Commission explains. Colour, flavour, shelf life; these are factors making the apple distinctive, she explains.  

The variety, originally named WA38, was developed by the tree fruit improvement programme of Washington State University..  “The parents of Cosmic Crisp™ are Honeycrisp and Enterprise, which give the large, juicy apple a firm and crisp texture, with the flavor an appetizing mix of sweet-tart.  It also has the characteristic of being naturally slow to brown when cut."

In recent years, many new varieties have been introduced. Why is the Cosmic Crisp (TM) distinctive? She admits that consumers are flooded by the amount of choice between the many available apple varieties. “Most of these new varieties are protected club varieties, which have a limited production by a limited number of growers, and sales are handled by one sales office,” she explains. “Cosmic Crisp(TM)  is a branded apple, but, unlike the proprietary varieties, it is available to any grower in the state of Washington, USA.. That means the variety will also be available from most, if not all, sales organisations in the state.”

Year-round availability

During the development of the variety, various testing orchards were planted. The first commercial orchards were planted in 2017, when 626,000 trees were planted. For this year, 5.2 million Cosmic Crisp trees were ordered, and for 2019, 4.1 million orders have been received. The first commercial harvest is expected in the autumn of 2019. “Volume will be limited in its first year, but we expect to market 5.1 million cartons (40lbs/18kg) by 2021.” It’s expected export will also pick up in 2020, due to the available volume combined with interest shown in the apple by international retailers.

September and October are the harvest months for this apple. Another positive characteristic is the apple’s good shelf life, according to Rebecca. The apples can be kept in storage for one year without losing their flavour or texture. “With this good storage characteristic, imports  ’won’t be needed. Besides, the global planting of Cosmic Crisp will be limited for the first ten years, and growers in Washington State will have the largest commercial volume available world-wide.”

Red eye-catcher

The apple is also being praised by retail. ”There  is a lot of excitement among US retailers for Cosmic Crisp ™”, Rebecca says. “It’s bright red in color, and very eye-catching on display.  It will make a nice change from the many bi-colored varieties currently on offer.”

Right now, people are working hard on the marketing strategy for the apple. Washington State University has appointed Proprietary Variety Management (PVM) to commercialize the apple. In cooperation with an industry advisory committee, packaging, labels and promotion material is now being developed. Rebecca doesn’t rule out a Euro-packaging in addition to the standard box (40 lbs per box). “Because it’s a brand, it’s important individual packers and exporters use a consistent design. It has to be clear to consumers that it’s a Cosmic Crisp (TM).”

Article by Rudolf Mulderj, Fresh Fruit Plaza

An Other Worldy Apple

BL: Welcome back to “Fruit Bites” brought to you by Valent U.S.A. Joining me again is Valent’s Allison Walston and this week, we’re talking popular apple varieties. So, Allison, what new varieties are gaining traction or might be on the horizon?

AW: Have you heard about the Cosmic Crisp apple?

BL: Well yes I have, but please, tell us more!

AW: Washington State University started developing the Cosmic Crisp apple back in 1998! It is a cross between an Enterprise and a Honeycrisp. The Cosmic Crisp website says “The 'Cosmic'… name was developed because of the “striking” lenticels on the apple surface… [that] look like starbursts ... 'Crisp' … links to its parent, 'Honeycrisp'.” It’s expected that nearly 5 million trees will be planted in 2018 ALONE putting estimates at 11 million trees in 3 years in Washington. The consumer expectation for taste is supposed to be “other worldly”. Such excitement for an apple! Large, juicy, exceptional flavor and slowness to brown after cutting. The apples should be available for purchase in 2019.

Interview by Bob Larson, Ag Info Radio News Network

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

Cosmic Crisp, An Apple for Washington Growers

Dan Plath, of Washington Fruit, one of the state’s larger fruit companies, asked Swanson to address questions about the continuing demand for Honeycrisp and organic apples and what the industry can expect in the rollout of the Cosmic Crisp, the new Washington State University variety expected to hit store shelves in 2020.

Swanson said the price for Honeycrisps — he calls them Moneycrisps — may fall if production keeps going up, but a 15 percent price drop in exchange for selling 200 percent more may be worth it.

And while shoppers may not be willing to eat more, the Honeycrisp story proves they are willing to spend more. They keep asking for higher quality and exclusivity.

Among fruits, strawberries have been gaining plate share at the most rapid rate, Swanson said, and berry giant Driscoll’s controls more than 90 percent of the genetics in producing better strawberries. Apple cultivar developers are more scattered, often at land grant colleges, and can’t move as quickly.

However, that only gives apples a better chance to tell a story and market their fruit much like wine. Thus, growers must gamble on new varieties, including Cosmic Crisp, he said.

“Cosmic Crisp is almost a mandatory industry development,” he said.

Cosmic Crisp is the brand name for WA 38, a variety developed by WSU’s breeding program specifically for Washington growers — suited for the climate and storage infrastructure of the nation’s top apple producing state. The industry has invested nearly $500 million in ramping up production and marketing.

Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower

New apple brand developed at WSU to be available in 2019

PULLMAN, Wash. – Move over Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, there is a new apple in town.

The Cosmic Crisp apple is expected to be available for consumers by 2019.

This new brand of apple is a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp created by Washington State University’s Tree fruit breeding program.

According to WSU, the fruit has a rich red-purple color over a green-yellow background and is speckled with little spots. WSU tree fruit experts said the apples will flavor profile will provide ample sweetness and tartness.

WSU made 300,000 trees available to growers this year. The growers were chosen through a drawing, according to WSU. Other growers will be able to buy trees from Washington State fruit tree nurseries for delivery in 2018 and 2019.

Article by Krem 2 News

New apple varieties set the stage for strong season in Washington

Washington apple growers and shippers continue to diversify and adjust their plantings to meet the growing demand for Honeycrisp, Fuji, Gala and the highly anticipated Cosmic Crisp variety. 

In addition, growers continue to incorporate new “club” or trademarked apple varieties into their crop mix.

Randy Hartmann, president of Pacificpro, based in Bellevue, WA, noted this has resulted in some great, well received and delicious new apple varieties to the marketplace and allowed individual growers and shippers to market a unique product to their customers and the end consumer. 

“With the public’s increasing focus on healthy diets and lifestyles, we are seeing continual growth in the sector as a whole and specifically in the organic category on all varieties,” he said. “As an industry and a company, we continue to focus on items that are important to our customers like overall quality, food safety, traceability and inventory management.”

Craig Hartmann, Randy Hartmann and Marcus Hartmann of Pacificpro

Craig Hartmann, Randy Hartmann and Marcus Hartmann of Pacificpro

Pacificpro procures and ships the entire Washington state apple manifest, including all organics and many club varieties to its wholesale, foodservice and retail customers in all regions of the United States.

Article by Keith Loria, The Produce News

"A Red Apple that is Ultracrisp"

The odds of an apple making it from the testing stage to the grocery shelf are extremely long. There are perhaps 5,000 to 7,000 apple varieties in the world today, but only about 30 to 40 are commercially grown worldwide and slightly fewer in Washington state. Apples are evaluated on taste, appearance, storability, cost, how quickly they rot, and ease of growing. 

Despite the long odds of making it, there is one apple Evans has been working on that she’s super excited about.

“I have to talk about the new Cosmic Crisp. I mean, Cosmic Crisp is typically a red apple that is ultracrisp,” she explains.

The new apple is a cross between a Honeycrisp and an Enterprise. It’ll be commercially available in the US within two or three years, and Washington growers are betting that it’ll be a winner — they’ve planted 600,000 Cosmic Crisp trees this year and Evans expects some 5 million more trees to go in the ground next season.

So while the Cosmic Crisp could wow us in the West, who knows how Chinese consumers will react to the new shape and color. Ultimately, that will partially guide business, and growing, decisions in Washington state.

Article by Jason Margolis, Kuow.org

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Cosmic Crisp™ apple hoping to be out of this world

It takes years to develop a new variety. Cosmic Crisp – the newest apple variety – was 20 years in the making and began at Washington State University under an experimental fruit-breeding program. It’s anticipated to edge out older fruit, such as the outdated red delicious. It’s a naturally bred variety, a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp. “We like to think that it took the best qualities of both apples,” explained Kathryn Grandy, director of marketing for Proprietary Variety Management. PVM was brought on to provide its experience in research and development, consumer focus and brand development for the Cosmic Crisp.

Huge interest from growers

In 2014 there were so many growers interested in taking this new fruit on, WSU had to choose through a draw system to make their choices more fair. 2017 is the first year of planting. Somewhere around 600,000+ trees were planted. For next year, Grandy says, there are about 5.5 million trees on order, which is almost the maximum number of trees they’re able to provide. “We anticipate the same going into 2019 as well.” Tree orders for 2019 already number in the millions.


Washington variety exclusive

It will remain a Washington exclusive for the next decade at least. “Growers have been generous in supporting the efforts of WSU and the breeding program. In return they’re given a 10-year exclusive deal to grow the apple,” said Grandy. There are plans, however to do some smaller globalization of the apple in the future years in other growing regions of the world. “But, it’s going to be a very strong Washington apple,” she stated. 35 growers within the state received trees this year. Some have chosen to plant on new ground, some are using existing acreage.


Commercial volume in 2019

The first commercial availability will be in the fall season of 2019, which will be the third leaf on the trees being planted this year. There will be much more volume anticipated in 2020 because of the subsequently planted trees next year. “It will really continue to ramp up after that,” said Grandy. Washington growers will be exporting to Canada, Mexico and Asia.

Meets consumer's changing tastes

This will impact sales of other varieties, what with consumer tastes changing. “Red Delicious was at one time one of the most popular but consumers are looking for sweet, crunchy and crisp.” With the volume available and only continuing to ramp up with commercial availability, Grandy says she has a feeling it may affect other varieties.  “It’s sweet, tart, crispy, and juicy. It has a wonderful flavor.” The name itself was chosen by consumers through focus group testing to get feedback on the apple’s appearance, flavor and characteristics. 


Excellent storing apple

She says it also stores amazingly well. “Its storability and volume should make it a 12-month a year apple. Some apples taste good but don’t store as well; they become flavorless or less juicy and mealy. This variety has proven it stores extremely well for the full season.”

Article by Rebecca Dumais, Fresh Plaza

Apple industry readies itself for the big thing called Cosmic Crisp™

Planting surge of highly hyped Cosmic Crisp is likely to test growers, packers, marketers — and consumers.

Raphael Sisneros Garcia prepares to plant Cosmic Crisp apple trees in April in what was a Grandview, Washington, vineyard. The new variety, bred and released by Washington State University, is being planted for the first time commercially this year. Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower.

Raphael Sisneros Garcia prepares to plant Cosmic Crisp apple trees in April in what was a Grandview, Washington, vineyard. The new variety, bred and released by Washington State University, is being planted for the first time commercially this year. Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower.

Washington’s apple industry enters a new world this year as growers plant the first of what, in just three short years, will be 11 million trees or more of the popular new variety, Cosmic Crisp.

If all goes as planned, production from those trees will eclipse the total U.S. production of all but the top half-dozen or so apple varieties by 2022.

Rome and Empire? Both are likely to find themselves in Cosmic Crisp’s rearview mirror.

What about Honeycrisp? Growers might abandon their finicky friend if all they hear about Cosmic Crisp — it’s easier to grow and stores well — is true.

And those longstanding varieties that have powered the industry for years, Reds and Goldens? They’re likely to see continued declines in market share as annual Cosmic Crisp production increases.

Of course, that’s if all goes as planned.

Despite years of breeding efforts, test plantings and market research, there are no guarantees for growers considering an investment of $40,000 to $50,000 per acre to plant Cosmic Crisp.

For starters, there is always the weather; Mother Nature has a way of humbling experts. But there’s also fierce competition for produce shelf space from an increasing number of varieties and products.

Washington growers may dominate U.S. apple production, but they are bit players on the world stage; even though they produce 60 percent of the U.S. crop, U.S. growers overall account for just 3 percent of global production.

A future block of Cosmic Crisp is being prepared in Zillah, Washington, in May for some of the first commercially available trees to growers in the state. Some 11 million trees are expected to be in the ground in the next three years, making Cosmic Crisp the largest introduction of any apple variety to market in history. This block was days from planting, with Felix Schuhmann marking tree locations with fertilizer and trenching for irrigation lines. Photo by TJ Millinax,  Good Fruit Grower.

A future block of Cosmic Crisp is being prepared in Zillah, Washington, in May for some of the first commercially available trees to growers in the state. Some 11 million trees are expected to be in the ground in the next three years, making Cosmic Crisp the largest introduction of any apple variety to market in history. This block was days from planting, with Felix Schuhmann marking tree locations with fertilizer and trenching for irrigation lines. Photo by TJ Millinax, Good Fruit Grower.

The risks are significant, and the pressure’s on. Cosmic Crisp, a Washington State University-bred cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp, isn’t just a new apple. It’s unique in several ways: No other new apple has had to be an immediate hit with consumers, at a high enough price, right out of the gate.

It’s often helpful to look at history to predict the future. It’s not as easy with this apple. Asked to name a similar product for comparison, one agricultural economist said he couldn’t think of any.

Growers also don’t control the ficklest factor of all: consumers.

“If, in the first few years, we turn off a bunch of consumers, it’s going to be like trying to to restart a bowling ball rolling it uphill,” said Robert Kershaw, president of Domex Superfresh Growers, a fifth-generation grower in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

He leads an industry advisory committee tasked with developing marketing standards for the new apple.

World production of key varieties, such as Gala, may have ramped up in their early years, he said, but never with a club variety and never just in Washington.

“This is a gamble. It’s not a sure thing. I’m personally shocked by how many trees are going in,” Kershaw said. “It’s just scary when you look at it from Washington’s perspective.” But, he stressed, it’s all about the consumer. “We’ll do everything we can on marketing and branding and everything else, but at the end of the day, the consumer will decide if they like it or not.”

Marketing comparisons shouldn’t be limited just to produce or even agricultural products, said Lynnell Brandt, president of Proprietary Variety Management, the company contracted by WSU to manage the variety, including licenses and marketing.

Rollouts in other food service industries can also serve as a guide, he said.

“What we hope to do is minimize the risk by, number one, having a wow, exciting apple, but also to have the industry as a whole representing it. That’s not been done before. But I think the possibilities are very large and exciting.”

In it together

So far, the industry is buying into the idea of a united front. In April, members of the marketing advisory group, which includes participation from packers and marketers who handle between 80 and 90 percent of the state’s production, agreed that Cosmic Crisp would be the primary brand for the apple, followed by Washington Apples, the label of the Washington Apple Commission.

The shippers themselves have agreed to remain almost invisible on any consumer packaging, an unheard-of position by the industry.

Jose Valencia covers a new Cosmic Crisp tree in a 13-acre block that was once a vineyard.  Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower.

Jose Valencia covers a new Cosmic Crisp tree in a 13-acre block that was once a vineyard.  Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower.

Kershaw acknowledged even he was opposed to the idea. “It went against what I wanted, but that’s OK, because we’re being guided by consensus. We’re doing what’s best for everyone, not just best for one,” he said.

Two years ago, Kershaw said, if he had asked the industry if such a move was possible, everybody would have said no.

“It’s never been done before. We’ve never had industry leaders working together like this before, on the same team. If anything is ever going to be a success, it’s going to be something like that, where everybody in the industry is rowing the boat in the same direction.”

Brandt credited the industry for uniting behind the apple. “If it’s all about the brand, then our ability collectively to promote it really gets amplified.”

Washington growers have a 10-year head start on Cosmic Crisp; international growers in a handful of countries that don’t ship to U.S. markets will be able to grow Cosmic Crisp sooner to protect the patent overseas, but growers elsewhere in the U.S. have to wait.

For that reason, it’s significant that the marketing committee is taking steps to protect the growers — something a united brand does, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

“It’s a wonderful deal. It goes back to recognizing that it’s the grower that needs to be protected and have this opportunity to have this exciting apple, both domestically and internationally,” he said. “I think it’s a great direction.”

Failure is not an option

So what are the potential fatal flaws in this venture? Across the board, industry leaders point to one: overproduction.

Too much juvenile fruit, too much big fruit, could pose a problem, Kershaw said.

“All apples grow big when they’re young. That’s going to be difficult the first few years of production, making sure the quality is representative of the brand,” he said. “If the quality is good, and we’re able to make sure we don’t put bad tasting fruit and poor quality into the consumer’s hands, it’ll be a success.”

Dale Goldy, co-owner of Gold Crown Nursery in Quincy, Washington, has similar concerns, given the ample size of production projected by just the third year.

“We’re going to have this huge ramp up and nobody is going to know about it,” he said. “We’re going to advertise the heck out of it, and we’re going to educate people, and it’ll be great once we have enough people who know about it. But what about those intervening years while we build the market? What does it look like, from a grower-return standpoint?”

Goldy likened the experience to Fuji, an apple that was phenomenally successful for growers in the 1990s, because they were growing it for the export market.

But those high prices led to overplanting, creating a sudden need for a domestic market among consumers unfamiliar with the apple variety, and prices low enough that growers started losing money, he said.

Eventually, the industry educated domestic consumers about Fuji, but the situation doesn’t have to recur, he said.

“Until that point, there was no focused effort to go out and create consumer awareness. That’s where I think this is different. That Fuji example is the reason we have to have the marketing committee, and the growers have to support it,” he said.

Almost all newer varieties have a honeymoon period as distribution ramps up, but it is only when they stop expanding geographically that the normal forces of demand kick in, said world market analyst Desmond O’Rourke, director of Belrose Inc.

Honeycrisp and Pink Lady, for example, are two varieties that appear to have maintained a price premium after they have been widely distributed.

Miguel Vazquez pulls new irrigation lines in April for one of the first commercial Cosmic Crisp apple blocks planted in Washington. Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower.

Miguel Vazquez pulls new irrigation lines in April for one of the first commercial Cosmic Crisp apple blocks planted in Washington. Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower.

“That suggests that consumer preferences are key to the sustainable expansion of a new variety,” he said. “There is no way to test that for Cosmic Crisp until it is widely distributed.”

Brandt of PVM also noted concerns about overproduction, but noted similarly that an important element in achieving success is “critical mass.”

“If you are going to have a true rollout, if you are really going to make a true presentation, you can’t just have a few boxes. You’ve got to have enough to try to penetrate enough stores as possible,” he said. “That requires a critical mass, or you can’t really present a global, new brand.”

Immediate impacts

Already, nurseries are seeing a decline in sales for varieties other than Cosmic Crisp across the board, though Honeycrisp sales appear to have taken the biggest hit early. Whether that will hold true in future years remains to be seen.

Cosmic Crisp tree sales also mean an immediate influx of cash to WSU’s breeding program for continued work to develop new varieties; 50 percent of the royalties, or half of the $1 license fee for each tree, goes to those efforts. Additional royalties apply to the packing and sale of each box of fruit.

That’s particularly important to Kershaw. Three years ago, frustrated that Washington growers were still relying so heavily on aging varieties and having to snag new varieties developed in other parts of the world, Kershaw told WSU officials they should be turning Washington into the Silicon Valley of apples.

“We should be pumping out the newest and best varieties that everybody else in the world wants,” he said. “I’m hoping this is just the beginning of a blueprint that will involve more teamwork with the industry, more R&D on new varieties, and that Washington will be known years down the road as not only the best place to grow fruit, but the best place to find new varieties.”

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower

Washington apple industry’s new super star

The Cosmic Crisp has all the makings of a super star and will replace Red Delicious and other varieties whose popularity has flagged in recent years.

Royalities from the Cosmic Crisp™ will help fund Washington State University programs such as apple breeding. Photo by Dan Wheat,  Capital Press .

Royalities from the Cosmic Crisp™ will help fund Washington State University programs such as apple breeding. Photo by Dan Wheat, Capital Press.

The Washington state apple industry is re-inventing the way it does business. The industry is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a radically different strategy for introducing a new variety of apple, the Cosmic Crisp.

A cross between the Enterprise and the Honeycrisp varieties, Cosmic Crisp is easier to grow and store than most other varieties. Most importantly, consumer focus groups have given it top ratings for taste and texture.

The Cosmic Crisp has all the makings of a super star and will replace Red Delicious and other varieties whose popularity has flagged in recent years.

Apple varieties typically take many years before they reach a critical mass. The Cosmic Crisp’s introduction will shift that process to fast-forward. This spring about 50 Washington growers chosen in a drawing planted 630,000 Cosmic Crisp trees. About 10 million more trees will go into the ground in the next two years.

In 2019 Cosmic Crisp will make its commercial debut with 200,000, 40-pound boxes. That will jump to 1.9 million boxes the next year, 5 million in 2021 and 9 million in 2022, marking the fastest ramp-up of a new apple variety in history.

Ultimately, industry leaders hope to sell 30 million boxes or more each year.

The main question that remains is price. Assuming consumers are willing to pay a premium price similar to what they pay for Honeycrisp, the new apple will become a success. But even at lower prices the Cosmic Crisp will be a boon to the industry.

The Cosmic Crisp is different because it was developed by Washington State University breeders. That allows WSU and the state’s apple industry to retain control of it and the royalties it generates.

The royalty is $1 for every tree sold and 4.75 percent of the price of every box that sells for more than $20. One-fifth of the royalty will go to commercializing and promoting the apple.

Most importantly, half of the royalty will go to WSU plant breeding programs, with most of that going to apple breeding. The remaining royalty will go to the WSU Office of Commercialization, the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences and the breeders.

This investment in turn will establish a bigger pipeline for developing more new apple varieties in the future.

Our hope is the Cosmic Crisp will be a roaring success, but our further hope is that success will provide the resources that allow WSU’s plant breeders to develop important new varieties of apples and other crops.

One apple industry leader said the Cosmic Crisp could help Washington become “the Silicon Valley of apple breeding.”

That’s a bold statement, but it’s also one that’s achievable.

Article by Capital Press

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

Trees for new "Cosmic Crisp" apple going into the ground

PROSSER, Wash – Hundreds of thousands of trees bearing a brand new variety of apple are going into the ground in Eastern Washington. It's the first major apple variety ever developed in Washington.

It's called the Cosmic Crisp -- a cross between an Enterprise and Honey Crisp apple. "I think it's going to be one of the major apples in our industry," says Dave Allen, of Allen Brothers Fruit. He has been growing and testing the Cosmic Crisp for about six years now.

The apple was developed by WSU researchers, and this spring 600 thousand commercial trees are being planted in orchards in Eastern Washington. "Well it's a very wonderful apple. It's a sweet, tart apple, it stores a long time, it doesn't brown very much and it's a very delightful apple," says Allen.

There are orders for five million trees next spring, three million the year after. WSU says that is unprecedented.

At Yokes Fresh Market in Richland, produce manager Chris Campbell thinks the public is ready for a new apple. "It would be very exciting to taste it and see how it does. It's always exciting to get something new and we're all like that. Something new? Just gotta try it," says Campbell.

The Cosmic Crisp is medium sized, crisp and sweet with a hint of tartness. The "Crisp" comes from it's Honey Crisp roots. The "Cosmic" comes from the white speckling on the apple. "And it looks like it's the stars, so that's why they named it Cosmic," says Dave Allen.

For at least the next 10 years Washington apple growers will have the exclusive rights to grow the apples. As for when you can bite in, the first Cosmic Crisps will hit the market in fall of 2019.

Article by Kristi Paulus, KEPR TV

New 150-acre block for Honeycrisp and Cosmic Crisp apple varieties

The trees are in bloom, the bees are hard at work, and the smell of spring is in the air. The Superfresh Growers® team joined Dave Gleason, Chief Horticulturist, in one of the newer Eastern Washington orchard blocks to learn about the latest orchard happenings. 

The majority of cherries have passed full bloom, while most apples are just beginning, and apricots are in the final stages of bloom. “One of my favorite times of year is when the flowers are coming out,” explains Gleason. “We hit full bloom when the maximum number of flowers are open. The aroma of the orchard is intoxicating. It’s wonderful.”

Now that the ground has thawed from winter, the orchard team is busy planning and prepping a new 150 acre block that will be the future site of red Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp apples, and other high flavor and high color varieties. Cosmic Crisp is the new Washington State exclusive apple that will be available on the consumer market in 2020. The apple variety is easy to grow, leans to a deep red color, stores well, and has a delicious crisp and juicy texture.  

Goal is to remove ladders from the orchard

When planning a new orchard, Superfresh Growers has the opportunity to use the newest technology to create a labor efficient orchard. Robotic harvesting is on the horizon as a future option (as the technology develops). With the ultimate goal of completely removing ladders from the orchard, Superfresh Growers is investing in platforms and high density orchards. The rows of trees are planted with just enough room for a tractor/platform (about eleven feet). The platform can be used for everything ladders have been used for. “If our tree design is narrow enough, our employees can stand on the platforms and reach into the trees, reaching all sides of the tree just from one side. The platform can then roll through every other row, creating 50% labor savings and efficiency. We are looking at all possibilities to create the most efficient and labor friendly orchard,” explains Gleason. 

Spring is about ten days behind normal. Last year, the spring was earlier than normal, so bloom is about three weeks behind from last year. Superfresh Growers is aiming for cherry season to begin around June 12th this year. The apricot and cherry crop will be plentiful, with a harvest lasting well into late-summer for cherries.

Article by Fresh Plaza


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The Sky's the Limit for Cosmic Crisp™ Apples

Lynnell Brandt, PVM President

Lynnell Brandt, PVM President

Proprietary Variety Management (PVM) president Lynnell Brandt says limitations on certified budwood are the reason Cosmic Crisp apples haven’t been planted too extensively to date, but virtually all of Washington State’s leading growers are on board with the cultivar with aggressive expansion in the pipeline.

The state has been granted exclusivity for the variety’s commercialization in North America for at least 10 years.

As a cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise apples, Brandt describes the Cosmic Crisp as having some acid but it’s more on the sweeter side of the spectrum, with “incredible” shelf life and storage.

“Next year will be the first planting and there will be 629,000 trees planted,” the industry veteran told www.freshfruitportal.com during apple industry event Interpoma in Bolzano, Italy late last month.

He says there are now 5.2 million trees on the books to be planted in 2018, followed by well in excess of three million in 2019.

“We know that’s going to climb, because that’s not a normal situation to be ordering that far out but we know there’s a lot of interest and intent.

“There’s a realization within the Washington State industry that the older standby varieties are not returning much to the grower – it’s the new proprietary varieties that are returning the most, so there’s a need then to replant the Golden Delicious, the older Fujis, and especially Red Delicious.

“Washington State University has come out with this apple that seems to be a ‘WOW’ apple – it’ll keep 52 weeks out of the year, it has a good profile, has won over a lot of consumers in testing, and so forth.” 

Brandt forecasts the industry to reach 10 to12 million boxes of Cosmic Crisp apples within the next six to seven, before volumes climb from there at a “very high rate”.

While it is likely more of the Cosmic Crisp plantings will be to replace older varieties, Brandt emphasizes the importance of new plantings as well.

“All of the new plantings with the new techniques and the new spacing and so forth are having a much higher production per acre than the older plantings, so volumes will go up.”

He says the apple’s potential is so large that major players can’t afford to not get involved with Cosmic Crisp, and therefore “all of them” are on the books.

“I’m not being facetious with that – once you get something started like that then none of them as marketing agencies can be left out. They have to be able to have the product to be able to compete, so they’re all getting involved,” he says.

Brandt adds PVM has a contractual relationship for the variety with Italian cooperatives Vog and VI.P for the Cosmic Crisp apple in Europe, but the plant materials are still in the process of going through quarantine.

Article by Fresh Fruit Portal

Mentioned in The New York Times

Mentioned in The New York Times

"ROCK ISLAND, Wash. — Take one bite of a Cosmic Crisp — dramatically dark, richly flavored and explosively crisp and juicy — and it’s easy to see why it is already being hailed as the most promising and important apple of the future."

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