Post-Cosmic Question: What’s next?

With launch of WA 38 underway, WSU’s apple breeding program hopes to build on successes.

Kate Evans, Washington State University’s pome fruit breeder, is surrounded by her “phase 0” seedlings growing in the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center in Wenatchee, Washington, greenhouses on Monday, April 23, 2018. Evans says even though the breeding program has been around for 24 years, it’s very young compared to other programs around the globe. With Cosmic Crisp a few years away from consumers, she admits there’s mounting pressure to build off its success. However, Evans says the small team makes do using repurposed, antiquated facilities and inadequate staff workspaces that hamper the program’s potential. For instance, this greenhouse and headhouse, once a USDA facility built over 60 years ago, has forced the staff to content with an ever growing list of non-research associated issues, from parts failures, rat invasions and potentially hazardous facility flaws. (Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

Kate Evans, Washington State University’s pome fruit breeder, is surrounded by her “phase 0” seedlings growing in the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center in Wenatchee, Washington, greenhouses on Monday, April 23, 2018. Evans says even though the breeding program has been around for 24 years, it’s very young compared to other programs around the globe. With Cosmic Crisp a few years away from consumers, she admits there’s mounting pressure to build off its success. However, Evans says the small team makes do using repurposed, antiquated facilities and inadequate staff workspaces that hamper the program’s potential. For instance, this greenhouse and headhouse, once a USDA facility built over 60 years ago, has forced the staff to content with an ever growing list of non-research associated issues, from parts failures, rat invasions and potentially hazardous facility flaws. (Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower)

The well-hyped Cosmic Crisp is in the ground and on its way. So, what’s next?

The Washington State University apple breeding program, which released the variety, now stands at a crossroads. Breeder Kate Evans has more potential new varieties in the pipeline. Her greenhouse needs renovations. She wants help in her research orchard.

Meanwhile, though WA 38, to be marketed as Cosmic Crisp, is still a few years from store shelves, the university faces decisions about how to allocate royalties projected to reach millions.

The 24-year-old breeding program is young compared to its competitors around the world. Those of Cornell University and the University of Minnesota date back to the late 1800s. However, the apple industry expects Evans and her team to build off Cosmic’s success.

“Like any breeding program, I’m a firm believer that it should evolve,” Evans told growers in January at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission apple research review in Pasco. “The breeding program at WSU, any breeding program, evolves.”

She and the industry have some suggestions.

Facilities

For WSU breeding program staff, following in Cosmic Crisp’s success comes with potential pitfalls every day. Staff must navigate through narrow, rotting doorways, step over and around broken and cut concrete floors covered with makeshift steel plating and at worst scrap wood, just to successfully grow future apple varieties. (Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

For WSU breeding program staff, following in Cosmic Crisp’s success comes with potential pitfalls every day. Staff must navigate through narrow, rotting doorways, step over and around broken and cut concrete floors covered with makeshift steel plating and at worst scrap wood, just to successfully grow future apple varieties. (Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower)

Evans seeks more labor to help maintain the Columbia View research orchard north of Wenatchee and more accurate DNA tests to help her genetically screen for a wider array of traits. But facilities’ improvement needs, also near the top of her wish list, may be the most obvious.

Evans and her staff at the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee share a greenhouse and storage with other programs.

The 60-year-old structure with missing floorboards and a stone for a door prop lets in mice and rats attracted to her tender seedlings.

A laminated handwritten sign implores visitors to keep out beans, grains and seeds. Her staff built rat-proof cages out of mesh screens that bolt onto raised wooden frames directly over the plants. So far, that seems to be working, Evans said.

Meanwhile, equipment failures, rust and overcrowding also get in the way of her team’s work, she said.

Upgrades are needed elsewhere at the Wenatchee research center, which has not seen additions since the 1970s. Laboratory space is at a premium. “I got a list of 51 items,” quipped one audience member at the research review.

Growers and researchers are lobbying for a master facilities plan for the research centers in Wenatchee and Prosser, both of which have programs involving tree fruit. The university is working toward one, but it won’t happen all at once, said Scot Hulbert, associate dean of research for WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, or CAHNRS.

Turnover and adding new hires at WSU take time. In May, Hulbert replaced Jim Moyer, who retired, while the agriculture college’s new dean, André-Denis Girard Wright, was scheduled to start June 1.

Dilapidated makeshift greenhouse benches, screws for holding down protective rat caging, irrigation parts storage… just one example of how the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center facility staff is making do with antiquated facilities and equipment. (Photo by TJ Mulinax,  Good Fruit Growe r)

Dilapidated makeshift greenhouse benches, screws for holding down protective rat caging, irrigation parts storage… just one example of how the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center facility staff is making do with antiquated facilities and equipment. (Photo by TJ Mulinax, Good Fruit Grower)

The university is in the process of hiring a postharvest physiologist and soil specialist for horticultural programs. Those faculty members will have needs for facilities and equipment just to start their jobs. “That’s got to happen now or very soon,” he said.

Like many universities, WSU has a backlog of deferred maintenance. The university has been assessing those needs across the entire campus since last year, said Kimi Lucas, CAHNRS director of operations.

This summer, the two fruit research centers will begin the creation of a long-term plan when an outside design team holds workshops with faculty and staff. Then comes finding a way to pay for the work, through a combination of university funds, grants, endowments, etc., she said.

Part of a recent $32 million endowment from the tree fruit industry, the largest in WSU history, is slated for facilities and research orchard improvements. However, the endowment won’t shoulder the whole burden, Lucas said.

“It would definitely not be only the endowment,” she said.

Changes in the past 10 years

The breeding program was created in 1994. Evans arrived in 2008, after Cosmic Crisp and yet-to-be released selections L and M were first crossed.

Since then, the apple industry has seen numerous changes. Managed varieties, usually in the form of clubs, are on the rise. Honeycrisp has set new expectations among consumers. Technology for DNA marker detection has improved.

Behind it all, Cosmic Crisp has created a new model for releasing apples that skirts the club method but also manages the variety.

Washington growers get exclusive North American rights to propagate and sell Cosmic for the first 10 years while the university contracted with Yakima, Washington-based Proprietary Variety Management, or PVM, to launch the apple commercially.

However, that doesn’t mean other varieties will follow the same path, Moyer said. The university has a cultivar licensing committee to help determine the rollout for each product.

He does not believe the university is required by law to put commercialization of a variety out to public bid, though that’s how PVM was hired for WA 38. “It depends on what the ask is,” Moyer said. If it’s just a matter of issuing a license, probably not, he said; if more services are required, then it might.

PVM also has been contracted to manage WA 2, the apple breeding program’s first apple released in 2009 and trade named Sunrise Magic.

PVM has made no overtures on any further releases, said Moyer and Lynnell Brandt, company president.

Evans points out cultivars in various stages of development at the Columbia View research orchard near Wenatchee. The row of trees to her right are kept as “mother” trees for new crosses, while the buds to her left are younger trees starting Phase 1. “Every year we plant trees, but every year we take out trees, as well,” she said. (Photo by TJ Mulinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

Evans points out cultivars in various stages of development at the Columbia View research orchard near Wenatchee. The row of trees to her right are kept as “mother” trees for new crosses, while the buds to her left are younger trees starting Phase 1. “Every year we plant trees, but every year we take out trees, as well,” she said. (Photo by TJ Mulinax, Good Fruit Grower)

Royalties

Though Cosmic Crisp is still a couple of years away from store shelves, stakeholders are already discussing how to spend the money it will make.

PVM projects 9 million 40-pound boxes on store shelves in 2022. Even if they sell for only $20 per box — an extremely low estimate — that would generate $180 million in sales. Washington State University charges 4.25 percent in royalties, meaning $7.65 million for one year. That doesn’t include royalties growers pay for each tree they purchase.

As spelled out in the faculty manual, half of those royalties will go to the breeders, the university’s Office of Commercialization and the university’s Agricultural Research Center. The second half must be set aside for the “enhancement of vegetatively propagated variety programs in consultation with the breeders.” Fruit trees are propagated vegetatively or by grafting; grains such as wheat and barely are propagated by seed.

The university is forming a committee of packers, growers and other industry stakeholders to devise a blueprint for how that second portion of the royalties are distributed. University officials hope to convene the group this summer, Hulbert and Moyer said. One idea is to create an endowment, designed to fund the program’s work regardless of what happens to prices and the market. “You never know how long this wave is going to last.”

That’s how the University of Minnesota handles royalties from its varieties, Honeycrisp, for which its patent has run out, SweeTango, Frost Bite and others. Rave will join the list soon.

The endowment of the Minnesota breeding program now stands at $1.6 million, said Jim Luby, director of fruit breeding programs, which is designed to help sustain the program in lean years. “You just don’t get hits that often,” Luby said. “It’s wonderful to have something like a Honeycrisp or a Cosmic Crisp, but those won’t come around every five years.”

The Minnesota program has released 24 new varieties to the world in its time. The state was once known for Haralson, a popular regional cultivar released in 1922 and the most widely grown apple in Minnesota until Honeycrisp was released in 1991.

Cornell, with 66 apple varieties under its belt, does not set aside royalties into an endowment, said breeder Susan Brown, creator of SnapDragon and RubyFrost, though she thinks that’s a good idea for WSU’s Cosmic Crisp royalties.

Minnesota’s breeding efforts are funded only through general taxes. At Cornell and WSU, the industry contributes directly through grower research assessments. The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission recently approved another year of WSU apple scion development, led by Evans, to the tune of $268,000. Evans also receives grants from other organizations.

Besides the grants, the Research Commission partners directly with the breeding program to manage grower evaluations and directly carries out some supporting research. All told, over the past 10 years, the commission has funded $3.1 million worth of activities related to the breeding program.

The growers would like to change their funding role in the future, said Mike Willett, manager of the Research Commission. They don’t plan to withdraw their support, but they think royalties should fund the basic program, from crossing through fruit evaluation, while the commission’s grants go to new ideas and experiments.

“The use of royalty funds to support the core activities of the breeding program would free grower resources to allow greater emphasis on funding novel and emerging research directions in the apple breeding program,” he said.

Some growers on the commission contacted by Good Fruit Grower deferred comments to Willett.

Moyer and Evans are glad to hear growers are willing to continue funding at some level. They believe that industry investment will keep growers and packers “at the table,” as Evans described it, involved in the decision making and creativity.

“One of the strengths of this program is that it’s so interactive with the industry,” Evans said.

Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower

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

Protecting Intellectual Property

Managers Of New Washington State University-Bred Apple Variety Use High-Tech Software To Protect Intellectual Property Rights.

PVM isn’t requiring anyone to bar code Cosmic Crisp trees either, but there is a unique code assigned to each grower contract.

The company already uses a computer software program, called Hertha and developed more than a decade ago, to evaluate new varieties that are not yet commercialized.

The program tracks everyone involved in that variety globally, such as breeders and managers, trademarks and patents, and includes the latest evaluations of the trees and resulting fruit.

PVM has since launched a new program called Idyia, to track the sale of trees and production from trees around the world and royalties once a variety has been commercialized.

Nurseries, growers, packers and marketers involved with Cosmic Crisp will have access to parts of the system that apply to them, as well as to industrywide reports on production.

“The goal is to make PVM as beneficial to the industry as possible by giving them as much information as possible, without compromising anyone’s confidential information,” Brandt said.

In May, René Nicolaï fruit tree nursery in Sint-Truiden, Belgium, planted the first Cosmic Crisp trees internationally as stock trees that will be used for eventual planting in Tyrol, Italy, by two fruit companies there that have been licensed to grow and sell WA 38.

Breeders have six years from the first commercial sale offering of a new variety to apply for plant breeder’s rights under international trees.

In the case of Cosmic Crisp, that clock started in June 2014, when the university held a drawing among Washington growers to decide who would get the first limited wood for 2017 plantings. The first trees were planted earlier this year.

Florent Geerdens, the René Nicolaï owner whose nursery is also an AIGN member, said the system allows for a unique “double control” to keep everyone honest.

“All the people involved in the concept must be trustful partners. We are our own police,” he said. “If my colleague is producing Cosmic without a license, I have to say you can’t do it. And if the partners we’re working with are not trustful, the system doesn’t work.”

The new technologies, both in cultivar development and in streamlining and sharing information across stakeholders, make for an exciting time in the tree fruit industry, Brandt said.

“The changes and the acceptance of IP by the industry as a whole, and new abilities through social media, computers, all of those things are coming together to make a unique opportunity and a unique environment for this to really explode,” he said.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower

INDUSTRY GEARS UP TO MARKET COSMIC CRISP APPLES

With the first Cosmic Crisp apples reaching grocery stores in two years, the Washington apple industry is working toward a marketing plan for the new state apple.

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Developing a marketing plan and funding for it are among the tasks remaining as the Washington apple industry prepares for the first sales of Cosmic Crisp apples in two years.

Kevin Brandt, vice president of Proprietary Variety Management in Yakima, Wash., was asked about the marketing budget for Cosmic Crisp at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Kennewick.

“We don’t know at this point. We understand it needs to be a large roll-out. We know that takes money. We’re looking at grants,” Brandt replied.

His father, Lynnell Brandt, president of PVM, which was hired by Washington State University to help manage commercialization of the new state apple, said a marketing advisory committee is working “toward consensus” for a marketing plan and that all options, except probably new grower assessments, are being looked at for funding.

Money is needed for the first few years of the launch but as sales volumes increase companies will have revenues to augment marketing, Lynnell Brandt said.

Five marketing entities that handle 80 percent or more of the state’s apple marketing are working well together on the committee despite being competitors, committee chairman Robert Kershaw, president of Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima, has said.

With 629,000 Cosmic Crisp trees planted in the spring of 2017, 5.8 million ready for planting in the spring of 2018 and 5.2 million to be planted in 2019, Brandt estimates 200,000, 40-pound boxes of Cosmic Crisp will go to stores from the 2019 crop, 1.9 million in 2020, 5 million in 2021 and 9 million in 2022. Production may reach 15 million boxes in 10 years.

Most of the plantings will replace older strains of Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Cameo and Jonagold, Brandt said.

PVM will help develop and coordinate the marketing plan with advice from the advisory committee, Brandt said. The first major crop in 2020 is the target date for having a plan in place, he said.

A subcommittee is working on grading standards that may be adjusted after the first few years of juvenile fruit.

Cosmic Crisp was bred from Enterprise and Honeycrisp apples 20 years ago by WSU apple breeder Bruce Barritt at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. It rates high in flavor, color, storage and resistance to disease and disorders. The industry believes consumers will like its sweet, tangy flavor more than that of Honeycrisp.

Washington leads the nation by far in apple sales at $2.4 billion annually. Such a huge ramp-up of a new variety has never been tried before.

The planting of 12 million trees in three years has been estimated as a collective industry investment of $275 million to $550 million. A 10 million-box crop of Cosmic Crisp could gross $300 million to $500 million annually.

Desmond O’Rourke, a retired WSU agricultural economist and world apple market analyst, said there may be too many other apples of Honeycrisp heritage on the market in five years.

“I don’t think so. Consumer response is extremely good to that type of apple. There is no reason to believe that we are coming close to saturating that aspect at all,” Brandt said.

Costco likes Cosmic Crisp and has a “spot open on the spread sheet for it,” Keith Neal, a Costco buyer, told growers at the meeting.

Chris Willett, quality control and packing manager for T&G Global in Wenatchee, told growers the anticipated, unprecedented ramp-up is “daunting,” that it is “difficult” to launch marketing that quickly and that consumption will only grow so fast.

“The question is will other varieties move away fast enough. Quality has to be there and the right price,” he said.

Brandt said good branding is vital and that 38.5 percent of produce is branded and the percentage is growing because it increases revenues.

“Branding is a name, a term, a design or symbol that differentiates a product. It can be a picture or name recognition. Strong brands drive consumer traffic and deliver a promise,” he said.

Consumers are willing to pay more for a branded product because it guarantees consistent quality, he said. The Nike shoe symbol is an example, he said.

PVM has trademarked the name Cosmic Crisp and is applying for a logo trademark. It likes a logo developed by Blind Renaissance Inc. in East Wenatchee showing the name in a galaxy of stars but has not made a final decision on it.

The logo would be the dominant feature of all packaging and PLU (price look up) stickers with the Washington apple logo as a secondary element, Brandt said.

A database system will track tree sales, licensed growers and packers, fruit sales and royalties to help in marketing, he said.

Article by Dan Wheat, Capital Press

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™ 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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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

Cosmic Crisp™ insights: Hort Show Preview

Washington Beefs Up Education Ahead Of Plantings Of New Variety.

We’re getting close. Washington growers will plant the first commercial trees for the much-anticipated Cosmic Crisp apple in the spring.

Antonio Quintana of Mt. Adams Orchards discusses the stem length of Cosmic Crisp apples with Juan Piñon of Wilson Irrigation during a field day at test blocks north of Prosser, Washington, in September. [Photo Courtesy of Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower]

Antonio Quintana of Mt. Adams Orchards discusses the stem length of Cosmic Crisp apples with Juan Piñon of Wilson Irrigation during a field day at test blocks north of Prosser, Washington, in September. [Photo Courtesy of Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower]

To keep up with the excitement, organizers of this month’s Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Wenatchee are dedicating nearly an entire session to the WA 38 apple, sold under the trade name Cosmic Crisp, the latest variety released by the Washington State University breeding program.

“It’s one of the first real releases from the WSU breeding program, so we really wanted people to get a lot of information about it so they can make informed decisions,” said Sam Godwin, a Tonasket, Washington, grower and chair of the annual meeting planning committee.

Topics for the Cosmic Crisp session, which is scheduled for Dec. 5, will include recommended horticultural techniques, licensing and marketing.

In addition to the convention, researchers have been holding well-attended field days to share the latest information on growing and storing the variety, while nurseries are ramping up propagation to make their first deliveries later this winter.

“The timing is important because a lot of people are making decisions about whether to get involved with the new variety,” Godwin said.

Still, the education will be ongoing as field trials continue to yield more results, orchardist Dave Allan told a group of fellow growers at a September field day near Prosser, Washington. Grade standards are a work in progress, too.

“We are trying a number of different systems, and some of them are going to work well and some are not,” said Allan, who ran some of the trial blocks at Allan Brothers’ orchards. “And we’re in the process of discovery.”

Count him in as a booster though. He predicts the apple will become one of Washington’s most successful. “I think we all agree with that,” he said. “If we’re wrong we’re all going to have to go to dumb school, but we’ll all get there together. But I think it’s going to be successful."

More Cosmic Crisp tips

o test growth habits, WSU researchers grafted Cosmic Crisp scions onto Granny Smith trees on Malling 9 rootstocks at the Sunrise research orchard in Wenatchee, Washington. They are experimenting with one-, two- and three-leader training systems. [Photo Courtesy of Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower]

o test growth habits, WSU researchers grafted Cosmic Crisp scions onto Granny Smith trees on Malling 9 rootstocks at the Sunrise research orchard in Wenatchee, Washington. They are experimenting with one-, two- and three-leader training systems. [Photo Courtesy of Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower]

Growers continue to glean tips and advice about growing the Cosmic Crisp as they prepare to plant the first commercial trees next spring.

Researchers held two field days in mid-September to give growers a glimpse of Washington State University’s newest apple on trees at harvest time. The visits followed similar field days in April shortly after bloom.

The Cosmic Crisp, or WA 38, was developed by the university’s apple breeding program and, in the United States, will be grown exclusively by Washington growers for 10 years.

Growers will start the first commercial plantings in 2017 with more to follow in the coming years.

Here are several points researchers made during three Washington field days in Prosser, Quincy and Wenatchee:

—Don’t thin Cosmic trees until you have a full crop after three years or so.

The tree tends to thin itself down to single pieces of fruit with few doubles and virtually no triples, while fruit helps control the growth of the vigorous variety.

Karen Lewis, a Washington State University regional extension specialist, said she learned the hard way with a hand-held string thinner at the Roza trial orchard in Prosser. “I over thinned because I didn’t understand that this variety, this cultivar, tends to thin itself down pretty easy,” she said.

—Avoid Manchurian crab apple pollinizers.

They share an allele in common with Cosmic Crisp, making them 50 percent incompatible. Researchers are searching for recommended pollinators specific to the Cosmic, but until then they advise using multiple sources, including Whitney crab and Snowdrift crab, and commercial varieties such as Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious or Winter Banana. Plant a pollinizer tree every 30 feet in every row.

—Cooling and shade is recommended but not essential.

The test blocks at Sunrise and Roza research orchards have no shading or overhead cooling and researchers are finding few sunburn problems. Commercial growers Stemilt Growers and Allan Brothers have used overhead cooling in their test blocks, which are several years older than the university’s blocks.

Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower