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.


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)


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

Cosmic Crisp Claimed as the Most Promising "Celebrity Apple"

Exciting research from Pace International's record-breaking Postharvest Academy


Pace International, a leader in sustainable postharvest solutions, recently hosted its half-day Postharvest Academy in Cle Elum, WA, at the Suncadia Lodge. Every spring, Pace's academy explores game-changing ideas and presents some of the latest research being conducted in the postharvest segment for the apple, pear and cherry industries, with this year’s event including two quality-related pre-harvest presentations.

"We bring in the experts whose cutting-edge research addresses our customers' most pressing packinghouse challenges, with a focus on maintaining fruit quality, freshness and safety," said Rodrigo Cifuentes, vice president of marketing and business development for Pace International.

Pace International’s lineup of speakers this year included seven industry experts presenting on a wide range of topics from market expectations, presented by Desmond O’Rourke of Belrose Inc. to managing fruit disorders with decay control, covered by James Mattheis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Richard Kim of Pace International. Food safety management was also presented, with a focus on efficacy of water sanitizers and Peroxyacetic acid in apple packing processes, presented by Meijun Zhu of WSU, and a proactive defense strategy by Trevor Suslow of University of California-Davis, who are both researchers on the food-safety project, “Assessment of Apple Packing for Listeria Risk” funded by the Center for Produce Safety, which the WTFRC is a partner in research with. A few academy highlights included the following:

  • Cosmic Crisp was claimed recently to be the most promising “celebrity apple” of the future by The New York Times and Seattle Business magazine. According to Ines Hanrahan, project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Commission, the Cosmic Crisp is a new apple variety bred by WSU. During Hanrahan's presentation, she reviewed the current status of the development of a starch scale for growers, to help determine the perfect harvest time for the Cosmic Crisp, which has slow starch degradation, a narrow fruit maturity profile on the tree, and a long harvest window. This scale, along with other fruit quality parameters, will help to ensure high-quality fruit being picked every time, and it allows packers to make corrections during harvest. She also shared the latest harvest and storage practices for the Cosmic Crisp apple variety.
  • The new application process for ecoFOG (fungicide thermofogging technology) and FYSIUM (1-MCP technology) reduces application times and provides significant benefits to packers, including better apple quality management. David Felicetti Sr. R&D and regulatory affairs manager of Pace International, presented very promising results demonstrating FYSIUM exposure times less than the current 24-hour recommendation can be just as effective. Felicetti also discussed applying ecoFOG before FYSIUM. "Traditionally, FYSIUM is applied first followed then by the ecoFOG application. However, by inverting the applications, all actives can be applied in a shorter window,” Felicetti said. The benefits of reducing application times are significant for packers and include reduced pathogen incubation time due to the earlier application of fungicides, reduced CO2 build-up in the rooms, and increased flexibility to meet packer's individual needs. These trials are still ongoing.
  • Valent shows results of new ReTain organic formulation to help manage organic apple harvests. Kevin Forney, product development manager for Valent USA LLC, spoke on the evaluation of ReTain as a maturity management tool on new apple varieties and field evaluations of a new organic formulation of AVG. With the maturity management tool, ReTain treatments resulted in highly significant reductions in fruit drop across all varieties tested, with no observable effects on the development or intensity of skin color. "ReTain, and the new organic formulation have consistently demonstrated equal performance around all varieties tested," Forney said.

Pace International’s eighth annual Postharvest Academy attracted a record-breaking attendance of over 150 industry leaders and professionals from various countries around the world, including the U.S., Canada, Chile and France.

"Our next scheduled Postharvest Academy will be in October 2018 in Chile. We hosted our first Postharvest Academy in Chile last year and had over 100 attendees. We plan to continue hosting Pace’s Academy into markets where we have a presence. Our goal is to share the latest trends, practical research and sustainable postharvest technologies with all of our customers," said Cifuentes.

Article by The Produce News

Big Impacts

Here are a few ways Wenatchee’s WSU and USDA researchers have changed the tree-fruit industry:

Cosmic Crisp

Cosmic Crisp, a cross between a Honeycrisp and Enterprise, was bred by a team at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.

The breeding happened in 1997, followed by research to test how best to grow it and then name it. Its research name was WA-38. WSUassociate professor Kate Evans, who hails from England, has been working on the project since 2008, taking over for Bruce Barritt.

The apples, according to researchers, are easy to grow and store and are expected to rival Honeycrisp in terms to price point and demand. Honeycrisp apples sell for $50 to $70 a box. Others sell for about $30 a box.

The first 700,000 trees were sold to growers by lottery for planting in 2017. About 5 million are expected to be planted in 2018 and another 5 million in 2019, making it the largest roll-out of a new variety. About 200,000 40-pound boxes are expected to make it to market in 2019, jumping to 1.9 million 2020 and 9 million in 2022.

WSU gets royalties on trees sold for planting and on boxes of apples sold.

Evans is now working on a dwarfing pear rootstock, that would allow them to be grown on smaller trees, increasing density and allowing more efficient management.

Decision Aid System

The Decision Aid System is an online platform available to growers that mixes the latest research-based information with weather forecasts and their own spray history to help growers make decisions about pest and crop management.

The project is led by Vincent Jones, a WSU entomology professor.

“You know what you’ve sprayed, based on forecast you can predict what the control should be,” Jim McFerson said. “And you know what the impact is on the natural pested enemy. … It’s live, online and constantly updates.”

Shade netting

In addition to protecting against hail, photo-selective anti-hail nets also protect against plant stress and sunburn. That’s good news for Honeycrisp apples that have a tendency to get burned. The research on the effectiveness of the nets is part of a three-year research project, with trials done at McDougall and Sons orchards.

Integrated pest management

Keeping male codling moths distracted with pheromone-laced tags has become an established practice in pear and apple orchards.

“It’s a biological control to reduce the number of successful matings,” McFerson said. “If you combine that with other techniques, you chip away at the overall population in the orchard. The more orchardists that use it, the less a chance of an outbreak.”

It’s just one of the non-spray methods of pest control tested and perfected by WSU researchers in Wenatchee. It was first tested about 25 years ago. Research continues on how to refine the traps.

Another technique include spraying a virus that infects the moths.

“Over the past couple of decades, pest management practices have changed completely,” he said. “There’s not not one chemical that does everything. We’re not relying on that. There’s no magic bullet.”

Researchers also are gearing up for invasive pests they know are coming, like the spotted wing drosophila, a fruit fly imported from Asia.

“It’s exploded in a lot of the country. It really likes ripe fruit, like cherries or raspberries. So we have a new problem we didn’t have 10 years ago. When something like that pops up, we go into SWATteam mode,” he said, led by WSU Entomologist Elizabeth Beers.

Another invader Beers is developing strategies to control is the brown marmorated stink bug. 

Article by Nevonne McDaniels, Wenatchee Business World


Washington State University President Kirk Schulz shared some of the university's recent highlights (the Cosmic Crisp Apple).

Schulz boasted of WSU's economic effect on the state, including its boost to the wine industry and the university's new Cosmic Crisp Apple, a product of WSU's tree fruit breeding program, which is expected to hit store shelves in 2019. Twelve million Cosmic Apple trees are expected to be planted, in what Schulz called the largest introduction of an apple, ever.

Article by Taylor Nadauld, Moscow-Pullman Daily News

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

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


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, An Apple for Washington Growers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower

Growers get latest Cosmic Crisp horticultural tips

Stefano Mussachi, WSU tree fruit physiologist, shows growers a Cosmic Crisp apple tree in spindle tree style at the WSU Sunrise Research Orchard near Rock Island, Wash., in spring of 2016. Growers are keen on learning horticultural aspects of what the industry hopes will be a great new variety. (Photo by Dan Wheat,  Capital Press ).

Stefano Mussachi, WSU tree fruit physiologist, shows growers a Cosmic Crisp apple tree in spindle tree style at the WSU Sunrise Research Orchard near Rock Island, Wash., in spring of 2016. Growers are keen on learning horticultural aspects of what the industry hopes will be a great new variety. (Photo by Dan Wheat, Capital Press).

Washington State University tree fruit researchers shared their latest perspectives on how to grow the new Cosmic Crisp apple variety with growers at a recent field day south of Wenatchee.

ROCK ISLAND, Wash. — Mechanical pruning works well on Cosmic Crisp apple trees by the fourth year and cutting the tips of one-year old limbs controls growth better than limb bending.

Those were main points growers learned at a Washington State University field day at Sunrise Research Orchard south of Rock Island, Sept. 27.

Cosmic Crisp is the new WSU-bred apple tree the industry is starting to plant in a big way with plans for the first apples to hit grocery stores in the fall of 2019 and quickly ramp up thereafter.

Promoters say cosmic Crisp is a great eating apple with great flavor and good crispness and firmness that consumers will love more than Honeycrisp, one of its parents. It stores well without storage disorders such as water core, internal browning and superficial scald that hampers other varieties.

Perhaps it’s only negative is vigorous growth causing too much spacing between fruit, called blind wood, resulting in fruit on outer edges rather than closer to tree trunks where desired.

Stefano Musacchi, WSU tree fruit physiologist, “now believes that’s better controlled by cutting the tips of one-year-old limbs and cutting tips in subsequent years rather than by bending limbs down,” said Karen Lewis, WSU Extension tree fruit specialist. Musacchi calls it click pruning. Bending limbs down actually creates more blind wood, according to a tip sheet the scientists wrote for growers.

Apple trees produce the plant growth regulator auxin in their stems and shoot tips inhibiting bud formation. Cutting limb tips or girdling or notching every foot of a trunk on two-year-old trees interrupts auxin flow allowing more buds to form where desired.

The tip sheet gave equal credence to spindle and biaxial (two trunks off a one) tree structure for good fruit coloring and automation and mechanization of pruning and harvest while European V is more problematic for mechanized pruning and harvest.

“At the end of the day, Cosmic Crisp responds well whether vertical or angle (V),” Lewis said. “Growers need to put the math to it (what’s profitable) and their ability. They’ll do what they know.”

Musacchi is now experimenting with a fourth tree structure, what he calls top grafting which is grafting Cosmic Crisp onto stumps of other varieties above their rootstocks to develop three trunks, she said.

Lewis has focused a lot on mechanical pruning, also called hedging. Mechanical pruning in June eliminates blind wood by producing buds closer to stems and produces higher quality fruit, she said.

“We’ve also noticed that in the first couple of years when hedging the tree responds vigorously (more growth), but in the fourth year it settles down and gives you the tight narrow canopy you’re looking for,” she said. But it can result in smaller fruit which is something to consider, she said.

Article by Dan Wheat, Capital Press


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New apple brand developed at WSU to be available in 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Krem 2 News

Washington State University President Kirk Schulz packed an auditorium Wednesday at his first State of the University address. He highlighted the university's accomplishments since his presidency began last June.

Another big point Schulz focused on was the Drive to 25. This campaign aims to make WSU one of the top 25 in the nation for research by 2030.

Some notable research already taking place includes the creation of the Cosmic Crisp apple, which is part of a WSU program Schulz described as having fruition (pun intended). He said about 3 million Cosmic Crisp apple trees will be planted and available to consumers by 2020.

Schulz added that the advantage of a land grant university like WSU is its strength in agriculture.

“It shows what can happen when you have a long term research program working with local industry,” he said.

Article by Angela Nhi Nguyen, NW News Network