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

A sturdier, crisper, and yummier apple

Bruce Barritt wanted to create a new apple variety. This is how he tasted his way to the Cosmic Crisp.

Back in 1988, Red Delicious made up 70 to 80 percent of the domestic apple market. Over the years, farmers sold a lot of them because they looked great. But they had a mealy texture, and people want an apple that’s firm, crisp, and juicy. I started lobbying for one. By 1994, threatened by varieties from Japan and New Zealand, the U.S. industry and Washington State University agreed that we had to grow our own.

First, we cross-pollinated existing apples: Collect pollen from one flower, put it on the tip of a pencil eraser, and rub it into another. We crossed dozens of crisp, flavorful varieties such as Gala, Fuji, and Pink Lady. But the best offspring came out of Honeycrisp and Enterprise parents. We grew the crossbred seeds into 5-foot trees, grafted those onto rootstocks (to make them start producing quickly), and planted them in evaluation orchards. A few years later, they fruited—and we began tasting.

You can’t eat thousands of apples a day. So I would walk down long rows of hundreds and thousands of trees, and when I found an ­attractive fruit, I’d bite, chew, spit it out. Most were terrible, but when I found one with good texture and flavor, I’d pick 10 or 20 of them. Then I put them in cold storage to see how they would hold up after a few months. After that, three or four researchers sat down and tasted every apple. We checked acidity and sugar levels, which can break down over time, and tested firmness and crispness using instruments that measure pressure and cell breakdown.

When we found exactly what we wanted, we planted clones and tested them all over again. Eventually, we ended up with the Cosmic Crisp. It can spend nine to 12 months in storage, and stay crisp, firm, juicy, sweet, and tart.

Article by Popular Science

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'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 Plantings Beat Estimate

About 1 million more Cosmic Crisp apple trees are being planted this spring than were estimated in December. Some growers worry about oversupply.

More Cosmic Crisp apple trees are being planted this spring in Washington state than expected, heightening concerns about possible overproduction.

At the Washington State Tree Fruit Association meeting last December, Lynnell Brandt, president of Proprietary Variety Management, estimated Cosmic Crisp plantings at 5.8 million trees for the spring of 2018. The company was hired by Washington State University to help manage commercialization of the new state apple.

Now with the 2018 planting season three-fourths done, Brandt said this season’s tally will end at 6.7 million to 6.8 million Cosmic Crisp trees planted. And that accounts for losses reported by some nurseries from trees that died when their bud grafting onto rootstock failed, he said.

Willow Drive Nursery, near Ephrata, experienced about 37 percent mortality on its 2018 Cosmic Crisp and other nurseries were probably close to that, said Jim Adams, co-owner of Willow Drive.

“We don’t know what caused it. We’re trying to figure it out. Roots grew fine but didn’t transfer to the variety. Buds died,” Adams said.

Willow Drive grew 1 million Cosmic Crisp trees for 2018 but will grow 150,000 in 2019 because growers previously ordered fewer Cosmic Crisp and more of proprietary varieties for 2019, he said.

Other nurseries will make up for Willow Drive’s decline, and the best guess remains that 5.2 million more Cosmic Crisp will be planted in 2019, Brandt said.

A total of 629,000 trees were planted in 2017, the first year of commercial planting, he said.

Brandt said he expects plantings to drop to 2 million trees per year in 2020 and beyond.

He estimated just under 200,000, 40-pound boxes of Cosmic Crisp will go to grocery stores from the 2019 crop, 2 million for 2020, 6.2 million for 2021, 11.3 million for 2022, 15 million in 2023, 18 million in 2024, 20 million in 2025 and 22 million in 2026.

In comparison, Red Delicious peaked at 61.4 million boxes in 1994 and remains No. 1 at about 34 million. It’s taken Gala more than 20 years to reach 33 million and Honeycrisp 10 years to reach 12 million.

The fast ramp up of Cosmic Crisp makes a lot of growers nervous, Adams said.

“I hear from a lot of growers across the state. There’s a lot of nervousness, reservations about the sheer volume,” he said.

Brandt said oversupply will be countered by Cosmic Crisp being a better apple, replacing older strains of Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Cameo and Jonagold.

“I’m not sure everyone has a grasp on this,” Brandt said. “It will be a launch different than any other. Immediate critical mass. It opens a whole lot of avenues because of that notoriety and brand recognition and promises to the consumer that will be utilized like never before.”

The industry will work together using social media to directly reach consumers at limited costs, he said.

“Because it’s a brand it must have a marketing approach, not just a sales approach. The brand will become of paramount importance,” Brandt said.

An industry marketing committee, including five Crisp marketing entities that handle 80 percent or more of the state’s apple marketing, is making progress toward a marketing plan and has “a lot more work to be done over the next couple of years,” Brandt said.

Article by Dan Wheat, Capital Press

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

Supermarkets excited about new, bright red Cosmic Crisp (TM) apple

In the fall of 2019, American supermarkets will have a new apple on their shelves, and the new variety will be available for export markets a year after that. The Cosmic Crisp (TM) is an extension of the existing supply, Rebecca Lyons of Washington Apple Commission explains. Colour, flavour, shelf life; these are factors making the apple distinctive, she explains.  

The variety, originally named WA38, was developed by the tree fruit improvement programme of Washington State University..  “The parents of Cosmic Crisp™ are Honeycrisp and Enterprise, which give the large, juicy apple a firm and crisp texture, with the flavor an appetizing mix of sweet-tart.  It also has the characteristic of being naturally slow to brown when cut."

In recent years, many new varieties have been introduced. Why is the Cosmic Crisp (TM) distinctive? She admits that consumers are flooded by the amount of choice between the many available apple varieties. “Most of these new varieties are protected club varieties, which have a limited production by a limited number of growers, and sales are handled by one sales office,” she explains. “Cosmic Crisp(TM)  is a branded apple, but, unlike the proprietary varieties, it is available to any grower in the state of Washington, USA.. That means the variety will also be available from most, if not all, sales organisations in the state.”

Year-round availability

During the development of the variety, various testing orchards were planted. The first commercial orchards were planted in 2017, when 626,000 trees were planted. For this year, 5.2 million Cosmic Crisp trees were ordered, and for 2019, 4.1 million orders have been received. The first commercial harvest is expected in the autumn of 2019. “Volume will be limited in its first year, but we expect to market 5.1 million cartons (40lbs/18kg) by 2021.” It’s expected export will also pick up in 2020, due to the available volume combined with interest shown in the apple by international retailers.

September and October are the harvest months for this apple. Another positive characteristic is the apple’s good shelf life, according to Rebecca. The apples can be kept in storage for one year without losing their flavour or texture. “With this good storage characteristic, imports  ’won’t be needed. Besides, the global planting of Cosmic Crisp will be limited for the first ten years, and growers in Washington State will have the largest commercial volume available world-wide.”

Red eye-catcher

The apple is also being praised by retail. ”There  is a lot of excitement among US retailers for Cosmic Crisp ™”, Rebecca says. “It’s bright red in color, and very eye-catching on display.  It will make a nice change from the many bi-colored varieties currently on offer.”

Right now, people are working hard on the marketing strategy for the apple. Washington State University has appointed Proprietary Variety Management (PVM) to commercialize the apple. In cooperation with an industry advisory committee, packaging, labels and promotion material is now being developed. Rebecca doesn’t rule out a Euro-packaging in addition to the standard box (40 lbs per box). “Because it’s a brand, it’s important individual packers and exporters use a consistent design. It has to be clear to consumers that it’s a Cosmic Crisp (TM).”

Article by Rudolf Mulderj, Fresh Fruit 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

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

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

Protecting Intellectual Property

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower

HORT SHOW DAY 2: AFTERNOON WRAP

A panel of growers shared their experiences managing crop load during today’s afternoon session at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting.

Everything is based on having a bloom target, Washington State University researcher Matt Whiting said in opening the session.

Washington Fruit and Produce determines trunk cross sectional area to determine crop load in years one through six in an orchard, to ensure a young block isn’t overcropped, slowing growth, Andrew Del Rosario said. Mike Robinson of BMR Orchards said he follows a similar path, though more informally, without advanced spreadsheets to track all of the findings. “How do you get a consistent crop? Part of it is getting pruning right and having a plan,” he said.

Brent Huck of Stemilt noted growers must first make sure the tree is balanced, with competition limbs, otherwise the numbers will be skewed.

WSU’s Vince Jones reminded growers about models available under the Decision Aid System, including additional flower phenology data—three cultivars already with five more in progress, such as the new WSU-bred apple variety WA 38, to be sold under the name Cosmic Crisp. Honeybee foraging models are also available, as well as models for sunburn browning, storage scald and various diseases and pests.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower

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

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

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

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

WSU WA 38 Field Day

Join WSU for a fall field day discussing horticulture and tips to optimize fruit quality of WA 38, WSU’s newest breeding program release. With more than 637,224 WA 38 trees in the ground already, WSU and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission are working hard to provide growers with the information they need to choose training systems, pruning systems, rootstocks, pollinizers, and management techniques for high quality fruit.

WA 38 Tips to Optimize Fruit Quality

September 27, 2017 @ 3:00 to 4:30 pm

WSU Sunrise Orchard, Rock Island WA

The focus of this field visit is management tips for consistently superior fruit quality. Stefano Musacchi, WSU Professor of Horticulture will demonstrate a new top grafting trial and discuss how horticulture systems impact pack out. Ines Hanrahan, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, will describe tips to achieve high pack outs, including how to determine optimal harvest dates, pluses and minuses of one versus two picks, and the utility of pre-harvest fungicide applications. Karen Lewis, WSU Extension will show ways to incorporate mechanization, such as hedging, in WA 38 management.

  • See the impacts of pruning, hedging and training strategies on fruit quality.
  • Learn how to use the new WA 38 starch scale.
  • Discuss management for high pack outs.
  • Taste WA 38 fruit.
  • See mechanical pruning tools.

Please note the Sept 6 field day in Prosser had to be canceled due to the later season. Fruit is not near enough to maturity for discussion.
 

Directions

WSU Sunrise Orchard, off highway 28 on Sunrise Lane, about 11 miles south of Wenatchee.