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

What Cosmic Slices Reveal

New WSU-bred apple showing different starch clearing patterns than traditional varieties.

Researchers are working to develop a starch scale for the new Washington State University-bred apple variety WA-38, to be marketed and sold under the brand name Cosmic Crisp.

The first commercial trees were planted last spring and the variety is still at least a couple of years from production, but researchers as the Washington State Tree Fruit Commission, in collaboration with a focus group of growers and scientists, have some early assessments following on year of study. They plan to continue the research in 2018.

"We want to look at every angle to give people as detailed information as possible so they can be prepared, especially since we are expecting the volume of fruit to ramp up fast," WTFRC project manager Ines Hanraham said. "We also want this information to be user friendly so people can easily make the correct decision when growing, harvesting and marketing this variety."

More than 11 million trees are expected to be planted in the first three years, which will translate to a lot of fruit hitting the market at once. A grading subcommittee of the industry's marketing advisory group for the apple's retail rollout is establishing grading standards to enable the industry to be more flexible and meet changing needs of the market.

Grading standards will be the key to ensuring consumers receive a high-quality piece of fruit each time. However, so will horticultural practices, and starch scales are one method to gauge the maturity of a piece of fruit.

Immature areas of a piece of fruit will turn a blue-black color when dipped in an iodine solution, indicating high starch levels, while parts of the apple where the starch has converted into sugars will be clear. Starch scales vary be region and by variety. Cornell University provides Eastern U.S. growers with a scale range of one to eight, to point put different maturity levels; European growers use a scale that recognizes 10 maturity levels. Washington growers traditionally recognize just six, and researchers are continuing that traditions with the WA 38.

The Study

Researchers samples fruit from the end of September through November, eventually sampling 638 apples from four research orchards. They cut apples in half through the equator (the core for WA 38 is located farther down the apples than most varieties, and the cut to determine starch levels should be made through the core). Then they dipped the slices in an iodine solution and waiting up to 30 minutes to determine starch levels for fruit at room temperature; for cold fruit, starch patterns sometimes took up to an hour to fully develop. They then photographed the results to begin to develop a scale.

Typically, starch clears out of an apple's core area first, followed by degrees of clearing on the apple cortex, but WA 38 did not show that natural tendency, said Felix Schuhmann, a WTFRC research assistant. In addition, it became clear that darkening of apple flesh after reapplication of the iodine solution to visualize remaining starch takes longer than the other varieties.

Hanrahan noted that it's a point growers should be aware of, especially if they intend to preform starch readings in the field. Some varieties show fully developed starch patterns within a minute, while WA 38 will require at least 5 minutes, and up to half an hour if the fruit is cold (like on a cool fall morning).

So far, they've seen such slow disappearance of starch levels that they've developed a pilot half-scale (1.5, 2, 2.5). In addition, they've seen two patterns for how starches appear in fruit form the same tree: a flower pattern, which is most dominate and found in about 60 percent of the fruit, and a radial pattern that sprays outward like the sun's rays.

In the year ahead, the researchers are focusing on three key areas to tweak the scale:

  1. The researchers struggled to find stage five fruit picked straight from the tree, which means starches are moving very slowly out of the apple before harvest. That's good news in terms of long-term storability of WA 38, but they intend to let some fruit hang longer to determine just how long the period is to reach stage five or six on the tree. "We didn't let fruit hang on the tree long enough to determine when the fruit reaches that stage naturally," Schuhmann said. "We have to assess how long that actually takes during the season." On average, research on WA 38 has shown growers will have a two-week harvest window for controlled atmosphere storage-quality fruit.
  2. Instead of just conducting horizontal cuts, the researches also intend to perform vertical cuts to show starch clearance differences between the core area and the calyx and them bowl area, which might be helpful to determine if fruit is prone to splitting, Hanrahan said.
  3. Schuhmann said the researchers also aim to compare starch clearance rates to the rates of other common apple varieties.

The research is being funded by the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower

Learning Cosmic Lessons

Researchers offer the latest horticultural, packing tips for new Washington State University apple variety.

Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower .

Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower.

The new Washington State University apple variety WA 38, to be sold under the trade name Cosmic Crisp, is easy to store and suffers very few storage maladies if growers pay attention to best practices in the field.

That’s the finding from researchers who are reviewing the variety and offering tips to growers who planted it for the first time earlier this year.

“That’s a big difference from other varieties, not having to worry about 40 percent losses in storage due to some disease or another,” said Ines Hanrahan, project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (WTFRC). “You still have to manage the growing of the fruit and the harvest, but once you have a good product in the bin, there’s less worry having something wrong once it’s in storage.”

A cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp bred at WSU, the apple was released only after years of orchard trials.

Washington growers began planting the first trees in the spring, and roughly 11 million trees are expected to be in the ground in just three short years.

Knowing what the variety needs in the orchard and packing house is crucial to success.

Researchers for the WTFRC and WSU have been evaluating fruit from the trees to better understand and recommend best horticultural and packing practices for Cosmic Crisp.

They presented examples of the fruit — perfect-looking Cosmic Crisp apples and apples shaped less than ideally, as well as fruit with various blemishes — during a field day in September.

Here are a few of their recommendations:

Photo by Shannon Dininny,  Good Fruit Grower.

Photo by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower.

—Typically, growers will have a two-week window to harvest fruit that is suitable for long-term storage. Most varieties offer only a five-day window. “It gives you some time, some play, during harvest, if for example you don’t have enough pickers,” Hanrahan said.

—The variety is a lot less prone to sunburn than many other varieties, but can still get sunburn in afternoon sunlight without overhead cooling. Also, overhead cooling doesn’t appear to impede the fruit from coloring.

“However, if you have a block that is overly vigorous and has no overhead cooling, you can have color problems just like other varieties,” she said. Usually, color sets three to four weeks before harvest.

—Growers need to monitor starch levels and watch for splits, which mainly affect overripe fruit. Typically, only 2 percent of fruit will split, but if growers wait too long and the starch level goes to four (on a one-to-six scale), splits can go up to 20 percent.

“Start looking for splits at starch level two, then just keep watching to know if your orchard is susceptible,” she said. Researchers are working to come up with a starch scale for the variety by the end of the year.

Photo by Shannon Dininny,  Good Fruit Grower.

Photo by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower.

—Firmness ranges between 18 and 21 pounds in normal years. This year, researchers have harvested fruit at 17 pounds. However, the fruit loses very little firmness in storage.

—A few other notes: The variety suffers from no internal browning or scald. There is some green spot and cracking, but researchers don’t think the latter is a concern unless growers miss their harvest window and harvest too late, Hanrahan said.

Researchers have begun a couple of new projects to continue evaluating the variety. They are working to develop recommendations on either preharvest fungicide applications or applications as soon as the fruit is picked and placed into storage.

The variety has a lot of sugar and there are some stem punctures, so to avoid losses in storage, they are recommending fungicide applications.

They also are trying to use dynamic controlled atmosphere storage (DCA) to see if the fruit can be stored under organic storage regimens and determining when stem punctures might occur — during picking, placing of fruit in the bin or running fruit over the packing line. Researchers are conducting a full test this year to help to advise growers on whether to stem clip.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower