COSMIC CRISP POTENTIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The apple

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

But its qualities are more than skin deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Donald W. Meyer, Yakima Herald

The Cosmic Gospel: Washington State University continues education on training WA 38 trees.

Horticulturist Stefano Musacchi teaches growers the art of pruning Cosmic Crisp trees at a demonstration in December, 2017, Washington State University Roza trial orchard. Photo by Ross Courtney,  Good Fruit Grower .

Horticulturist Stefano Musacchi teaches growers the art of pruning Cosmic Crisp trees at a demonstration in December, 2017, Washington State University Roza trial orchard. Photo by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower.

Push growth toward the trunk. Tip the end of 1-year-old branches and return the following year to tip again, leaving a few vegetative buds. Girdle or notch blind wood to encourage new shoots.

After several years now of preaching the Cosmic Crisp pruning gospel, the message is largely the same, and Washington State University plans to keep spreading it.

Now that orchardists have planted the first commercial blocks of WSU’s WA 38 apple, researchers and extension specialists are continuing their road show to teach growers how to train and manage the variety, marketed under the trade name Cosmic Crisp.

“We’re learning along with you,” Karen Lewis, WSU’s regional extension specialist, told a group of 20 or so growers huddled in the university’s Roza test blocks outside of Prosser.

The December outreach involved small groups, an hour at a time, watching Stefano Musacchi, horticulturist and endowed chair, explain the pruning, training and canopy management techniques to give Washington growers their best chance at success with the new apple, in which the industry has invested nearly $500 million.

Musacchi advises the click pruning technique, tipping year-old branches to reduce their apical dominance to prompt buds below the cut to swell. That should reduce blind wood and force the fruit closer to the center of the tree, where future mechanization will become easier.

Left on its own, WA 38 has a tendency to tip bear and produce stretches of blind wood, he said. It’s also a vigorous variety and should need little help filling its space in the first few years. He recommends not applying a lot of nitrogen, as long as an orchard has fertile soil.

“This tree will grow,” he told the orchardists. “Believe me. It’s not a Honeycrisp tree.”

The WA 38 also has a habit of “exhausting” branches, so Musacchi suggests cutting older branches back to within a couple inches of the trunk to encourage new growth on a three-year rotation.

Musacchi heads back a tree, reducing it’s height, and using a one-year-old shoot to make a lateral cut.. Photo by Ross Courtney,  Good Fruit Grower .

Musacchi heads back a tree, reducing it’s height, and using a one-year-old shoot to make a lateral cut.. Photo by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower.

Another trick is girdling and notching the trunk in the first or second year. If blind wood starts to develop, use a pair of clippers to gently score the bark and phloem right above a bud at green tip to encourage growth in that bud. Combine that with Promalin (6-benzyladenine and gibberellins) treatments.

However, be careful, he said. Cut too deep and you could snap the trunk. “You have to train your people to not get excited,” he said.

In fact, WA 38 has fragile branches in the winter, as Musacchi accidentally proved during his Prosser demonstration by breaking off a branch as he tried to pull it into place. He suggested waiting until the tree is green to do any tying.

Other tips included pruning more thinly on the inside of bi-axis trees to allow light penetration and setting aside time to prune in the summer to slow vigor.

Musacchi and Lewis plan to continue their demonstrations and field days in commercial WA 38 orchards and are working with WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences to produce instructional videos for each year of tree development up to the first year of cropping, Lewis said.

Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower

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

A New Approach for a New Apple

Two-thirds of the nation’s apples come from Washington State at a value of nearly $2.4 billion.

The state’s industry is taking a unified approach to introduce a new variety they believe is out of this world.

Two hundred apple growers and industry representatives have come to a field day in Prosser, Washington, to get a glimpse of an apple most have already committed to growing, processing and distributing. Its hybrid name is WA38, but the public will know it as Cosmic Crisp. 

Ric Valicoff, Valkicoff Fruit Company: “That apple is extremely grower friendly. It sets itself up well in the tree, on either spindle, wall trellis, V trellis, what have you. It’s going to be way easier to deal with than the Honeycrisp, and a way better keeper.”
        

The rollout of Cosmic Crisp is a first for the apple industry, in that it mimics the introduction of many packaged foods. Apples are introduced to growers every year by university research farms, but this is the first time an apple has been taken through taste tests and focus groups before introduction. The audience data assured processors and wholesalers there is a market for the new apple. 

Cristy Warnock, Proprietary Variety Management:  “When a grower is deciding to grow a new variety, they can be only so comfortable with taking on a huge amount of risk with a new investment. The good thing about this situation is that the risk gets spread out through a whole industry. So more emphasis can be put into everyone collaborating and having their own orchards of this new variety, so that there will be a huge amount of volume, rather than a small amount trickling into the market over time.” 

The apple breeding program at Washington State University developed WA38 over twenty years, winnowing down an initial group of 40 favorable varieties to two that had commercial potential: WA2 and WA38. A crunchy and juicy apple, WA38 was more grower friendly than Honeycrisp, which is prone to rot, mildew and sunburn in the field, and possesses a thin skin that leads to punctures and bruising during processing. Leaving half of a Honeycrisp crop in the orchard is a common occurrence. Cosmic Crisp avoids most of these issues, and brings new advantages to the industry. Outside the orchard, the apple stores for 12 months without special measures like a low-oxygen atmosphere, and is extremely slow to brown once cut. 

Kate Evans, Washington State University: “So from a consumer perspective it's really a great eating apple, you know. Ultimately that is what the consumer wants. Most consumers key in on textural traits initially. Cosmic Crisp is crisp. Obviously, hence the name. It’s also extremely juicy. It’s one of those really nice apples that gives you that fantastic mouthfeel and the refreshing kind of juiciness that you get with an ultra crisp apple type.”
    
Dozens of varieties, some heirloom, some hybrid, are grown by individual orchards for the specialized apple market for audiences that prefer something unique. The potential of Cosmic Crisp encouraged the researchers at Washington State University to bring the entire supply chain to the table for the rollout of the new apple variety.

Cristy Warnock, Proprietary Variety Management:  “We’ve created a marketing advisory board made up of all of the main sales and marketing groups. Once they got on board, they felt compelled to get behind this.”

Exclusivity helped bring growers on board. Cosmic Crisp will only be grown in Washington for 10 years to give growers time to recoup their investment before the variety goes global. The apple breeding program at Washington State will see a revenue stream to fund future research by charging $1 per tree start and 4.5 percent of the wholesale sales of Cosmic Crisp apples grown in the state of Washington. 

Kate Evans, Washington State University: “Cosmic Crisp harvests in what is typically Red Delicious season. So many growers have been looking for something that would replace Red Delicious in terms of their harvest portfolio.”

It is expected that Red Delicious trees, a variety that sees 85% of the US crop exported internationally, will be the first to be replaced with Cosmic Crisp with other older varieties like Courtland and Braeburn to also lose acreage. The goal is to join Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp as the apples Americans most consume. Grower and packer interest is expected to make the rollout of Cosmic Crisp the fastest that the industry has ever seen. The last major apple variety to be introduced, Pink Lady, required 15 years to reach 1 million trees in the ground. Cosmic Crisp is expected to double that number in only two years. Interest in Cosmic Crisp has been so strong that a form of lottery was held to parcel out the initial tree starts. Few orchards got as many as they wanted, but most got enough for a dedicated section of their orchard. Roughly 700,000 trees will be grafted in 2017, with another 1.3 million in 2018, making it the largest apple tree introduction ever.  Cosmic Crisp apples should begin to appear in West Coast markets in 2019, and expand nationally in 2020. 

Ric Valicoff, Valicoff Fruit Company: “If you want to talk about the old Red Delicious and where that went, it’s sellability through the state of Washington back 30 years ago, this is the new Red Delicious but 10 times better.” 

Growing the better apple won’t come cheap. Converting an orchard to a new variety like Cosmic Crisp can cost $35,000 per acre. Using high density trellis systems, less than 1500 acres statewide will be needed to start 2 million trees, but at a cost to growers of over $40 million dollars. 

Time will tell if consumers will find room for this new apple in their shopping carts.

Article By Peter Tubbs, Market to Market