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

Plans Within Plants

Managing sheer number of samples, volume of data is focus for breeding program.

Kate Evans shows one of the program’s new seedlings and a page from the cross breeding “cull” sheets she and her staff use when moving plant material through the Washington State University pome fruit breeding system in Wenatchee, Washington, on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

Kate Evans shows one of the program’s new seedlings and a page from the cross breeding “cull” sheets she and her staff use when moving plant material through the Washington State University pome fruit breeding system in Wenatchee, Washington, on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower)

Breeding fruit poses a monumental logistical challenge.

The plant material, traits and data points of 600 crosses and 300,000 seeds must be counted, labeled, indexed and not only stored accurately, but in a way that’s easy to find.

“One of the biggest challenges in a breeding program is just keeping track of your material,” said Kate Evans, the Washington State University apple breeder who oversees the program that released the much-hyped Cosmic Crisp.

Just take a look at her greenhouse. Tiny green seedlings stretch on tables the length of a basketball court, and that’s just from one year. More grow elsewhere at the university’s research stations and commercial trial blocks throughout the state, either making their way through a breeding journey that lasts 20 years, or waiting on standby to be used as parents.

The hunt for new varieties continues, as research technician Bonnie Schonberg uses a pencil eraser to apply pollen to the stamens of an unnamed variety at the university’s Sunrise research orchard near Wenatchee. Schonberg previously stripped and emasculated the blooms to isolate the cross pollination. (Photo by Ross Courtney,  Good Fruit Grower )

The hunt for new varieties continues, as research technician Bonnie Schonberg uses a pencil eraser to apply pollen to the stamens of an unnamed variety at the university’s Sunrise research orchard near Wenatchee. Schonberg previously stripped and emasculated the blooms to isolate the cross pollination. (Photo by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower)

The breeding process all starts with the spring cross, gathering flowers in Ziploc bags from “father” trees, collecting their pollen and applying it with the eraser of a pencil to the stigma of “mother” trees — over and over again, row by row, tree by tree.

The seeds sprout in tiny pots made of irrigation pipe segments and spend the first year in the greenhouse slotted in racks of 96 because that’s how many the university’s DNA laboratory analyzes at a time. A staff member’s friend constructed them of plastic mesh especially for the breeding program.

Evans compresses the reams of data into a simple map with green or red for each rack — green for keep, red for cull. The culls are either thrown away or donated as bug food for an entomology project. Their DNA simply did not have the genetic markers of the traits the breeding program seeks.

In spite of technology, it’s all a rough guess. Evans cannot know for sure if she discards an absolute gem, the apple that would redefine apples.

“There’s never really a wow moment,” Evans said. It’s just a huge process of elimination, she said, though she prefers the term “selection.”

The seedlings that make the cut are nurtured at Willow Drive Nursery in nearby Ephrata, then grafted onto Malling 9 rootstocks in an orchard, usually Columbia View, a plot overlooking the Columbia River about 15 miles north of Wenatchee to mature for about three or four years.

Only then do they enter phase one selection based on their growth habits and fruit production. That lasts for about another three or four years. The favorable samples advance to phase two, replicated to 15 trees at three trial sites. Over the winter, Evans predicted 10 new selections would be planted for phase two this year.

Phase three gets serious, with grower evaluations, taste surveys, focus groups and storage tests. The grower-funded Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which funds some of the breeding program’s work, has partnered with the university to manage those phase three trials.

The whole process takes as long as 20 years. 

(Graphic by Ross Courtney and Jared Johnson,  Good Fruit Grower . Illustrations provided by WSU)

(Graphic by Ross Courtney and Jared Johnson, Good Fruit Grower. Illustrations provided by WSU)

Meanwhile, Evans keeps many of those crosses passed over in earlier phases, using them as parents for new crosses, meaning her program will continually grow. Her goal is to keep the 20-year pipeline full, so new varieties are always on the way. She does not believe any single apple, even a good one, will prop up Washington’s apple industry by itself.

So far, the university has two cultivars, known as L and M, in phase three. They are crosses of Cripps Pink and Honeycrisp, planted in commercial trials in Quincy. Evans and her team still use variety numbers internally but began publicly identifying their samples with letters to protect patent and trademark odds down the road. They predate Evans, who started in 2008.

Both varieties are tart, crisp and juicy and typically generate excitement when the university passes the apples out with survey forms at trade shows and conferences. Still, their future is far from certain. “There’s no guarantee that either of them will make it,” Evans said. But if she has her way, there will be more new apples right behind them.

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

CC-Web-Pace_International-Logo.jpg

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

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

Cosmic Crisp Exceeds Expectations, Part One

With today’s Fruit Grower Report, I’m Bob Larson. Uncharted Territory. That’s just one of the words used to describe the acreage of Cosmic Crisp apples after it was anticipated to reach 5.8 million acres in 2018...

Proprietary Variety Management’s Kathryn Grandy says demand has exceeded expectations.

GRANDY: “We’re looking at shipping somewhere around 6.7 to 6.8 million. We’re completing our shipments right now and plantings going very well this Spring. And, the excess of trees were snatched up by the apple industry in Washington. And, everybody seems to remain quite enthusiastic about Cosmic Crisp.”

BOB: Grandy says never before…

GRANDY: “This is really a first. As we all know, the apple industry in Washington is the largest in the country and our industry has really collaborated together to launch this new apple variety.”

BOB: Asked if it’s growers planting new acres or growers replacing other varieties, Grandy says...

GRANDY: “You know, I’m asked that question often and I think it’s really a combination of both. I think there’s new ground being planted definitely, and there’s quite a bit of grafting over or pulling and replanting new varieties.”

BOB: She says unfortunately, the trend is moving away from certain varieties like Red and Golden Delicious, but there are other varieties that have been lagging in the market that are also in danger of losing acreage.

BOB: Tune in tomorrow to hear what’s next for the Cosmic Crisp and when we should see them in grocery stores.

Podcast by Bob Larson, Ag Info

EVANS FRUIT TO GROW COSMIC CRISP

Evans Fruit Co. of Cowiche, WA, long known for its Red Delicious apples, has launched a vigorous expansion of varietals, including those favored by export markets.

“Every year we evaluate our current acreage, taking into consideration tree health, acreage yield, overall pack-out trend, current product mix and various other factors to determine whether to replant a particular orchard,” Wolter explained.

“This year we’re planting three varieties and planning about the same for the next few years. We’re primarily converting some of our older Red Delicious, Gala and other underperforming blocks with newer strains of Cripps Pink, Gala, Honeycrisp and Washington State University’s proprietary Cosmic Crisp.”

As new wood goes in, she said, “The challenge permanent crop growers battle is how much of the existing acreage can we afford to have out of production for up to four years. Apple trees won’t be harvested until the third or fourth leaf, returning nothing back to the grower yet requiring all the input costs of producing acreage.”

Some trees are producing new varieties now, and Wolter said, “We have many of the high-colored strains already, and the volume is steadily increasing. Our Cosmic Crisp will be available in about four years. During the first three years we focus on tree health and development. If we allow trees to produce too soon, there’s the potential to stunt the growth of the tree. Evans Fruit cultivates every tree with the intention to ship that fruit anywhere in the world and quality begins with a healthy orchard.”

And the excitement surrounding the new varieties is evident, with several factors going into the choices.

“We typically choose strains that are higher colored which may not color early or afford earlier-to-market options,” she said. “We focus on growing a more uniformly, full-colored apple which benefits both farmers and retailers/consumers.”

The upshot is that retailers receive a more uniform display.

Article by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar, The Produce News

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

Planting Cosmic Crisp Apple Trees

Washington orchard update

cc-planting_cosmic_crisp_trees.jpg

The Superfresh Growers farm team is celebrating spring. "Honey bees have finished pollinating our apricot orchards and moved on to early-district cherry orchards." Snow continues to fall in the mountains, which helps store water that will be used to irrigate orchards in the summer months.

2018 is a big planting year for Cosmic Crisp apple, as Superfresh Growers continues to prep for the 2020 consumer introduction of this delicious apple. Years of planning goes into designing modern orchard systems, which take advantage of the latest technology and machinery for optimizing the efficiency and safety of orchard work. “The amount of detail is incredible,” describes Dave Gleason, Chief Horticulturist. “From checking how many inches and acres are in an orchard block, to accounting for surrounding roads and barriers.” The farm team also plans the most efficient systems for tractor and truck movement within the orchards.

Baby trees are dug in the fall, and put to sleep through the winter months in a cold, moist climate. In the summer months, the farm team awakens them by bringing them into a warm environment. The real magic happens once the trees are planted in warm, damp soil. Trees that look like dead sticks quickly come to life and start to bloom.

Following the planting, poles and wires are installed to support the baby trees. Irrigation lines are installed afterwards to ensure proper application of water and nutrients. The trees in our video will mostly likely be harvested on their third leaf, in 2021.

For more information on Superfresh Growers growing practices and see past Orchard Updates, visit superfreshgrowers.com

Article by Fresh Plaza

An Other Worldy Apple

BL: Welcome back to “Fruit Bites” brought to you by Valent U.S.A. Joining me again is Valent’s Allison Walston and this week, we’re talking popular apple varieties. So, Allison, what new varieties are gaining traction or might be on the horizon?

AW: Have you heard about the Cosmic Crisp apple?

BL: Well yes I have, but please, tell us more!

AW: Washington State University started developing the Cosmic Crisp apple back in 1998! It is a cross between an Enterprise and a Honeycrisp. The Cosmic Crisp website says “The 'Cosmic'… name was developed because of the “striking” lenticels on the apple surface… [that] look like starbursts ... 'Crisp' … links to its parent, 'Honeycrisp'.” It’s expected that nearly 5 million trees will be planted in 2018 ALONE putting estimates at 11 million trees in 3 years in Washington. The consumer expectation for taste is supposed to be “other worldly”. Such excitement for an apple! Large, juicy, exceptional flavor and slowness to brown after cutting. The apples should be available for purchase in 2019.

Interview by Bob Larson, Ag Info Radio News Network

Cosmic Crisp, a proprietary variety available to Washington State growers

When the U.S. apple industry gained access for all varieties to the Chinese market in 2015 the impact was immediate. Shipments to mainland China leaped from a mere US$3.6 million in 2014 to US$23.2 million the following year.

Since then exports have lagged off somewhat down to US$17.7 million in 2017, but this is still almost five times what it was before the new protocol – a time when only Red Delicious or Golden Delicious could be shipped to the East Asian country.

In volume terms, last year apples were the third-highest U.S. fruit commodity exported to mainland China, behind cherries and citrus and ahead of table grapes. 

“While it’s small in comparison to Red Delicious, Galas and Granny Smiths, we’re seeing interest in some of these high-value proprietary varieties going through the e-commerce platform, which really provides tremendous incentive for our industry as currently that’s where our growth pattern is.”

While there are almost too many of these cultivars to mention coming out of the Pacific Northwest, Fryhover says most of the ones with sufficient volume behind them are being tested in the Chinese market.

“The quantity going into these markets is very small. We’re just touching our toes into China into exports of these proprietary varieties because they are focused on the U.S. domestic market. No question,” he says.

However, with aggressive plantings underway the development of export markets will be crucial to the success of these apples. Fryhover believes this will be the case particularly for Cosmic Crisp, a cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise apples.

“Cosmic Crisp is proprietary in the context that every grower in the state of Washington has access to these trees, It’s not one packer, one grower, it’s everyone,” he says.

Todd Fryhover of the Washington Apple Commission says export market development will be essential as plantings of new premium varieties such as Cosmic Crisp come on-line.

“The growers of New York or Pennsylvania or in most cases overseas, they don’t have access to this variety. 

“So what we see in the next 10 years is a huge increase in plantings and availability of Cosmic Crisp and it will need to go export almost immediately because volume will come on so quickly.”

Article by Fresh Fruit Portal

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Blind Renaissance

Since 1972, Blind Renaissance has an extensive history of creating the strong visual identity and cohesive media presence demanded by the sophistication of marketing environments. We design engaging, client-specific promotional materials by combining an educated artistic sensibility, knowledge of advertising trends in multiple industries and the ability to appropriately utilize new design, web and printing technology.

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

Varieties and Cosmic Crisp: Day 1, Hort Show afternoon wrap

Variety talks highlight afternoon at annual meeting

Specialized varieties, specifically Cosmic Crisp, headlined the discussion during the afternoon session of the Hort show, the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s annual meeting in Kennewick.

Lynnell Brandt and his son Kevin, both representatives of Proprietary Variety Management, told growers that nurseries will have 5.8 million trees of Cosmic Crisp apples ready for planting in 2018, with 5.2 million to follow in 2019.

Washington State University, which bred Cosmic Crisp, the brand name for the WA 38 cultivar, contracted Proprietary Variety Management of Yakima, Washington, to manage the commercial rollout of the new variety.

Lynnell Brandt, president of PVM, told growers that branded produce is becoming a bigger factor in the market. Currently, 38 percent of produce is branded, a share that’s growing.

Industry leaders expect other apples, perhaps Galas and even Honeycrisps, to make way for branded apples such as Cosmic Crisp, but they urged growers to pick and deliver only first-rate fruit to attract return buyers.

“It’s going to take discipline,” said Chris Willett of T&G Global, the New Zealand company that owns the Enza apple brands Pacific Rose, Jazz and Envy.

Willett and Bruce Turner, a market representative for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, both suggested the state set aside a lot of money for marketing to make sure shoppers know about the Cosmic Crisp when it hits store shelves in 2019 and 2020. The first commercial orchards were planted in 2017.

The Hort show continues Tuesday and Wednesday with research news flashes, Spanish sessions, horticultural topics, technology and industry awards.

Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower

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

Cosmic Crisp To Be The New "IT" Apple

Which will make for healthier apples -- old favorites, and new kinds, like the highly anticipated one being developed in Washington State. Grower Scott McDougall is betting the orchard that the Cosmic Crisp will be the new "It" apple when it rolls out in 2019.

"There's so much excitement over it that, literally, there will be 12 million to 13 million trees planted within the next three to four years," he said. 

With its sparkling, rosy cheeks, the Cosmic Crisp is pomological royalty, descended from the beloved Honey Crisp, and the result of more than 20 years of breeding at Washington State University's Tree Fruit Research Center, where scientists test for firmness, juiciness, and taste.

Article by CBS News

Washington apple harvest half-way finished

Autumn has finally arrived in Eastern Washington, bringing with it the cool nights that create the spectacular apples that Washington is known for. Dave Gleason, Chief Horticulturist, boasts about Washington’s weather, with 300 days of sunshine, an arid climate, and less than seven inches of annual rain in the Central Washington.

Cosmic Crisp replaces Gala

As the seasons change, Superfresh Growers® transitions older orchard blocks to new varieties. Superfresh Growers is currently tearing out an older Gala orchard, and replacing it with a high density Cosmic Crisp orchard. “We know the science of growing the best quality fruit, now we are moving to efficiency with high density orchards,” explains Gleason. This process includes turning over the soil and adding compost, enhancing soil conditions. The new high-density orchard will be designed with a trellis system with technology in mind: both platforms, which are currently used, and robotic systems of the (not so distant) future. 

360 million apples picked per day

Parker Sherrell, Pre-Production Manager, and newest member to the Superfresh farm team, joins Gleason to discuss how massive the Washington State apple harvest is. On a peak harvest day in Washington State there are roughly 30,000 pickers, each picking an average of six 850 pound apple bins. Sherrell shares that this equates to 360 million apples, which is enough apples to create a continuous line from Seattle to Shanghai, back to Seattle, and back to Shanghai. In other words, Washington State harvests about 17,000 miles of apples a day. 

“We are about 50 percent done with apple harvest in Washington. It takes an incredible amount of hard work to get these apples off. We are so grateful to have the people we do have helping us. There is a lot of work that remains, and everyone is in positive spirits,” said Sherrell. 

Cooler spring weather manifested smaller than normal apples. Apples are peaking three to four sizes smaller than last year, making this an excellent year to promote bagged fruit. Superfresh Growers has a full line of organic and conventional pouch bags ready to support retailers this season, as well as mesh, poly, and tote bag options. 

Gala harvest has concluded

Superfresh Growers is half-way finished with harvest. Galas have concluded, and the Superfresh team is moving on to Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady® and Autumn Glory® apples. Autumn Glory harvest will double in volume this year, providing a crop that will continue to build its national presence.

Article by Pamela Riemenschneider, Produce Retailer

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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Blind Renaissance

Since 1972, Blind Renaissance has an extensive history of creating the strong visual identity and cohesive media presence demanded by the sophistication of marketing environments. We design engaging, client-specific promotional materials by combining an educated artistic sensibility, knowledge of advertising trends in multiple industries and the ability to appropriately utilize new design, web and printing technology.

Red delicious on the decline

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Red delicious will soon lose its status as the volume leader in the Washington apple industry.

The variety will comprise 25% of the 2017-18 crop, down about 5% from recent years, according to an estimate by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, and numerous grower-shippers said they continue to move away from the classic apple.

Gala, estimated to account for 23% of the new crop, is on track to surpass red delicious this season or next.

“The popularity of reds has declined because we’re growing all these new varieties and they’re better-tasting,” said Randy Steensma, president of Honey Bear Fruit Co. “They don’t look as good as a red ... but these other apples have better eating characteristics.”

Alternatively, companies have been planting proprietary varieties or improved versions of varieties such as gala, fuji and Honeycrisp.

Many are also investing in growing Cosmic Crisp, an apple developed by the Washington State University breeding program.

More than 600,000 trees were planted this year, and about 5.5 million more will go in the ground next year.

“A number of our growers have been looking for a variety that will come into their harvest portfolio and take the same time slot as red delicious, which they’re trying to phase out a little, and this apple picks at about the same time as reds,” said Kate Evans, associate professor with the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center.

“My impression has been that a number of growers have sort of jumped on it really because it fits that harvest window for them,” Evans said.

Bill Knight, domestic sales manager for Northern Fruit Co., said the company is growing fewer reds even though it ships much of its fruit to markets where the variety is still desirable.

“That’s kept the red thing alive for us longer than maybe some other people,” Knight said. “We export a lot to China and Asia ... and those people fortunately still like to eat reds, so we’re still maybe a little heavier there than some people, but we’re slowly slimming down.”

Meeting consumer demand for better varieties has prompted the shift away from reds, but a parallel motivator has been the profit available.

“Where the grower’s not getting very much in terms of dollar per box, it becomes a very fine line as to whether the grower’s actually making any money from growing that variety anymore,” Evans said. “That’s a huge impact in terms of the grower decision.

“If there’s still a market for it, then they’ll grow it, if they can get a decent return,” Evans said. “It costs the grower considerably to change varieties, so they’re not going to make those decisions lightly.”

Article by Ashley Nickle, The Packer

New apple varieties set the stage for strong season in Washington

Washington apple growers and shippers continue to diversify and adjust their plantings to meet the growing demand for Honeycrisp, Fuji, Gala and the highly anticipated Cosmic Crisp variety. 

In addition, growers continue to incorporate new “club” or trademarked apple varieties into their crop mix.

Randy Hartmann, president of Pacificpro, based in Bellevue, WA, noted this has resulted in some great, well received and delicious new apple varieties to the marketplace and allowed individual growers and shippers to market a unique product to their customers and the end consumer. 

“With the public’s increasing focus on healthy diets and lifestyles, we are seeing continual growth in the sector as a whole and specifically in the organic category on all varieties,” he said. “As an industry and a company, we continue to focus on items that are important to our customers like overall quality, food safety, traceability and inventory management.”

Craig Hartmann, Randy Hartmann and Marcus Hartmann of Pacificpro

Craig Hartmann, Randy Hartmann and Marcus Hartmann of Pacificpro

Pacificpro procures and ships the entire Washington state apple manifest, including all organics and many club varieties to its wholesale, foodservice and retail customers in all regions of the United States.

Article by Keith Loria, The Produce News

WASHINGTON APPLE INDUSTRY SEES RISE IN ORGANICS AND A NEW VARIETY

Washington state is positioned to be the leader in organic apples for 2017. Lindsey Huber, international marketing specialist with the Washington Apple Commission, based in Wenatchee, WA, said production is on the rise and may make up as much as 15 percent of total crop volume.

“The 2016-17 season wrapped up at approximately 10.8 million bushels of organic apples, and the Aug. 1 estimate forecasted 13 million cartons for the 2017-18 season,” she said. “Washington’s climate positions growers to take advantage of organic horticultural practices matching the increasing consumer demand for organic products. Expectations are for continued organic apple expansion into the future.”

The Washington apple industry also recently saw the first plantings of the newest Washington variety, the Cosmic Crisp, go in the ground this past spring. This variety was bred by the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research Commission, and will be available to all growers in the state.

“Our industry is very excited about this apple, as it’s the first generic (meaning, not a proprietary variety that is controlled by a single marketing organization) variety we’ve had for some time,” Huber said. “Our state will have a 10-year exclusivity on the variety, which gives us time to create a strong consumer link between Washington state and Cosmic Crisp.”

With Cosmic Crisp joining the Washington apple collection, consumers can expect to see fruit in stores as early as 2019.

“In addition, the number of club varieties is increasing, which means consumers will have an even wider range of tastes and textures available,” Huber said.

Article by Keith Loria, The Produce News

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