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

Wrapping up day one of the WSTFA annual meeting

Two words can sum up Monday afternoon’s session of the 112th annual meeting of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association: Cosmic Crisp.

Kate Evans, Tom Auvil, Stefano Musacchi and Ines Hanrahan share a laugh during the question, answer portion of the Cosmic Crisp horticultural panel on December 5, 2016. (Photo courtesy of TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower ) 

Kate Evans, Tom Auvil, Stefano Musacchi and Ines Hanrahan share a laugh during the question, answer portion of the Cosmic Crisp horticultural panel on December 5, 2016. (Photo courtesy of TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower

Washington growers will begin the first plantings of the new Washington State University variety WA 38, which will be known commercially as Cosmic Crisp.

More than 600,000 trees are expected to be planted this spring, but orders for 2018 exceed 5.1 million trees.

Orders for 2019 have not yet been finalized, but demand is anticipated at about 3.1 million trees that year. In addition, after 2017, some growers may begin top working trees to WA 38 as well.

In preparation for those plantings, researchers and industry insiders shared what they know about the variety for planting, growing, harvest and storage.

The variety is prone to produce a lot of blind wood, and if growers don’t prune a lot at the beginning, they will experience problems, said Stefano Musacchi, tree fruit physiologist at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, Washington.

He recommended employing the “click” method of pruning (see the June 2016 issue of Good Fruit Grower for more on this pruning method).

Tom Auvil, research horticulturist for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, advised growers against mechanical or chemical thinning Cosmic Crisp until it is reliably cropping, which may mean only hand thinning in June. “If you thin a little, you may thin a lot,” he said.

If managed correctly, Cosmic Crisp has the ability to be a one-pick variety, but growers should consider light in the canopy, said Ines Hanrahan, projects manager for the Research Commission.

If growers build a narrow fruiting canopy and allow even light distribution, allowing for even coloring, growers should be able to pick the fruit in one sweep.

Toward that end, she recommended growers beware of leaf margins, which can block light from reaching the fruit.

We should be the Silicon Valley of the apple industry around the world.
— Robert Kershaw, Superfresh Growers President
“We should be the Silicon Valley of the apple industry around the world,” Robert Kershaw.   (PHOTO COURTESY OF TJ MULLINAX,  GOODF FRUIT GROWER )

“We should be the Silicon Valley of the apple industry around the world,” Robert Kershaw. (PHOTO COURTESY OF TJ MULLINAX, GOODF FRUIT GROWER)

Robert Kershaw, president of Domex Superfresh Growers and chairman of the WA 38 marketing committee, expressed concern that the high number of plantings will mean an estimated 9 million boxes of apples hitting the market within the first few years.

“This is all new territory, and if anybody tells you this is going to be easy, they’re in dreamland,” he said. But he noted several positives: The industry is working together, there is transparency about volumes, and it’s a good apple.

“We’re gambling that the consumer will vote on Cosmic Crisp, and it is a gamble. Let’s be clear on that,” Kershaw said.

Washington growers will have a 10-year head start with the variety, before other growers in the U.S. can begin planting. However, WSU has begun the process of licensing international growers to protect its patent internationally.

WSU’s U.S. plan patent was issued in 2014, but it does not apply internationally, said Albert Tsui, WSU patent attorney.

As a result, the university has sent WA 38 budwood to several countries for quarantine to protect their patent and has licensed its first international grower — in Italy — to begin planting in 2019.

About 6,000 trees will be planted there, and the growers will only be allowed to market in the European Union or North African countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower