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

Ag Weather Impacts - Apple Pollination

Dennis: The bees were a buzzin this past week as nearly perfect pollination weather was at hand. Yesterday, I talked with Mike Bush, long time WSU extension specialist in Yakima about the apple crop.

Mike: Based on the weather forecasts and the weather we’ve had in the past week, there has been a lot of bee activity and anything that is in bloom at this time is going to be well set.

Dennis: After the fruit is set, growers will be monitoring for pests and disease potential:

Mike: Those growers that are in the post bloom stage have probably already put out their mating disruption ties and within a week or two the growers will start putting out their sprays for coddling moth.

Dennis: Over the past 20 years, Mike has seen apple varieties evolve. HoneyCrisp has risen to be the one of the most popular at the fruit stands followed by Fuji and Gala, but there is a new variety that WSU has on limited release:

Mike: Cosmic Crisp, it does have Honey Crisp in its lineage, does have the good unique flavor that Honey Crisp does, except sweeter, it stores well, does not brown quite as fast.

Dennis: So be looking for Cosmic Crisp in the next few years. My Thanks to WSU’s Mike Bush.

Article by Dennis Hull, Ag Info

Apple Commission to promote proprietary varieties overseas

Todd Fryhover, President of the Washington Apple Commission. Photo by Dan Wheat,  Capital Press .

Todd Fryhover, President of the Washington Apple Commission. Photo by Dan Wheat, Capital Press.

The Washington Apple Commission has learned it can promote proprietary apple varieties overseas, at least to some extent, and sees it as a helpful tool in an increasingly challenging marketing climate.

At a commission meeting March 22 in Yakima, Commission President Todd Fryhover said while at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service the previous week in Washington, D.C., he was told the commission can offer consumer samples of proprietary varieties overseas at retailers’ requests.

“It could be a Lady Alice, a SweeTango, whatever. That’s a huge deal to us. It’s difficult to get retailers overseas to do demos with Reds (Red Delicious) and Gala, but they ask about the proprietaries,” Fryhover said.

Proprietary varieties — there are many — are varieties grown, packed and sold under the control of one company or a group of companies versus being available to all growers, packers and marketers. They’re limited in volume, sell for high prices and along with Honeycrisp provide the most profits.

“I don’t want proprietaries to overtake Reds and Gala overseas, so we need a process for what we do. There’s a lot of things we need to work through because we have to move Reds and Gala,” Fryhover said.

Proprietaries can sell in higher-end retail markets and generate excitement along with Washington’s new Cosmic Crisp to debut in 2019 and 2020, he said.

Cosmic Crisp is intended to begin in domestic markets only. But Frank Davis, commissioner and vice president of sales at Washington Fruit & Produce Co., Yakima, said it will need to be exported as soon as possible because of the large volumes planned.

Davis said he would look into why Proprietary Varieties Management, the manager of Cosmic Crisp, may be seeking federal Market Access Program funding for export promotions when that should occur through the Apple Commission.

Article by Dan Wheat, The Packer

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

Should Cosmic Crisp have a “utility” grade?

Questions remain about color standards for new Washington State University variety.

Washington State University has spent two decades developing WA 38, now known as Cosmic Crisp. The first sizable commercial crop will be harvested in 2020. Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower.

Washington State University has spent two decades developing WA 38, now known as Cosmic Crisp. The first sizable commercial crop will be harvested in 2020. Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower.

When it comes to grading standards for the new Washington State University apple variety Cosmic Crisp, Washington’s industry is already charting new territory.

Usually, grade standards for varieties are set by state statute, with input from the industry. Once those standards are set, they can be changed, but with time and effort.

Instead for Cosmic Crisp, a grading subcommittee of the industry’s marketing advisory group is establishing grading standards to allow the industry to be more responsive and flexible and meet the changing needs of the market.

Grading standards will be key to ensuring consumers receive a high-quality piece of fruit each time, said subcommittee chairman Dave Allan of Allan Bros., a longtime growing family in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

Already, minimum color standards remain one area of debate. There likely will be two grades for color, but there’s debate over whether there should be a so-called “utility grade,” he said.

Those on one side of the argument believe selling a “utility” color grade could diminish the Cosmic Crisp brand early in the marketing push, while others believe that if people and markets are willing to buy it, why not service them, he said. “That’s really a fantastic debate. We don’t have an answer yet,” Allan said.

Most standards, such as for bruising or russeting, will likely remain the same as other varieties.

But the subcommittee is seeking some answers from researchers before deciding on final grade standards:

  • Should the industry be marketing apples from 2-year-old trees? Allan said the subcommittee wants researchers to make some recommendations about the quality of apples from young trees.
     
  • Should they set a minimum harvest maturity for shipment? The subcommittee is hoping researchers can provide information on what would be the best indicator — starch, soluble solids, background color — to ensure that consumers receive a good tasting apple from the first shipment of the season through the last.
     
  • What is the eating quality of apples at different color rates, say 60 percent, 40 percent and 20 percent color? That calls for a tasting panel. If eating quality is the same for all three color standards, great, Allan said. “But at 25 percent red, if two-thirds say, ‘That doesn’t taste good,’ we’ve got some good information to say we shouldn’t be marketing those apples because it doesn’t deliver the brand.”

The market is established on the retail shelf, Allan said, adding that he has high hopes. “I think it’s a good enough apple that it will become one of the major apples,” he said. “I’ve worked with quite a few new varieties, and I rate it up there pretty high.”

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower.

Growers pin big hopes for Cosmic Crisp

Washington apple growers planted 630,000 new Cosmic Crisp apple trees this spring and will plant an estimated 10 million more trees over the next two years to revolutionize variety offerings of the nation’s largest apple-producing state.

Chris Anderson of Manson, Wash., on June 9 with the Cosmic Crisp™ brand apples trees he planted in April and May. He spent about $20,000 on 2,200 trees and hopes they bring him good returns. About 50 growers, selected in a drawing ,also planted Cosmic Crisp™ brand trees this spring. Photo by Dan Wheat.

Chris Anderson of Manson, Wash., on June 9 with the Cosmic Crisp™ brand apples trees he planted in April and May. He spent about $20,000 on 2,200 trees and hopes they bring him good returns. About 50 growers, selected in a drawing ,also planted Cosmic Crisp™ brand trees this spring. Photo by Dan Wheat.

MANSON, Wash. — Chris Anderson is in his 37th year of operating a small apple orchard once owned by his father on the north shore of Lake Chelan.

He’s among more than 50 Washington growers selected in a drawing for this spring’s first planting of the Cosmic Crisp, a new apple variety that industry leaders hope will usher in a new era.

It’s a $275 million to $500 million risk on an apple the industry hopes consumers will love. Plans call for it to replace the Red Delicious as the new Washington state apple and be the foundation for higher and steadier financial returns for decades to come.

Apples are big business in Washington state. They are the top agricultural commodity, grossing $2.4 billion annually. About 65 percent of the apples grown in the U.S. come from Washington orchards.

Cosmic Crisp™ brand trees near East Wenatchee, Wash., on June 9. These were planted a year ago by Van Well Nursery and are certified mother trees. Cuttings from them will be taken each fall for use in budding new Cosmic Crisp™ brand trees onto rootstock. Photo by Dan Wheat.

Cosmic Crisp™ brand trees near East Wenatchee, Wash., on June 9. These were planted a year ago by Van Well Nursery and are certified mother trees. Cuttings from them will be taken each fall for use in budding new Cosmic Crisp™ brand trees onto rootstock. Photo by Dan Wheat.

For three weeks in April and May, Anderson laid out neat rows and hauled trees and fertilizer, helping his three workers plant by hand 2,200 Cosmic Crisp trees on a little over 2 acres. Elsewhere in Central Washington, other growers planted up to 20,000 trees apiece, mostly by machine.

Anderson is optimistic about the new apple.

“It’s something being heavily promoted, sounded like it might be fun. And, yes, I’m looking for better returns,” said Anderson, 64, who with his wife, Sally, runs the orchard.

Anderson tore out Fuji apple trees last fall to make room for his Cosmic Crisp.

“Fuji are very late and I don’t have a long enough growing season. There have been years I picked them in the snow and years they froze on the trees,” Anderson said.

Unprecedented plan

This rapid roll-out marks a first for the industry.

Ricardo Santacruz reaches for a Cosmic Crisp™ limb of buds as Eduardo Morales gets ready to wrap the bud. They are part of a crew of 45 budding Cosmic Crisp™ buds onto rootstock trees at Willow Drive Nursery near Ephrata, Wash., on Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Dan Wheat.

Ricardo Santacruz reaches for a Cosmic Crisp™ limb of buds as Eduardo Morales gets ready to wrap the bud. They are part of a crew of 45 budding Cosmic Crisp™ buds onto rootstock trees at Willow Drive Nursery near Ephrata, Wash., on Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Dan Wheat.

“The 5 million is an extremely high number for any one variety of apple tree to be planted in any given year in the state or nationwide,” said Neal Manly, managing partner of Regal Fruit, an apple breeding and variety management company in Ephrata, Wash.

According to Manly’s survey of the state’s nurseries, 40 percent of the trees planted next year will be Cosmic Crisp. Only Red Delicious and Honeycrisp reached 40 percent of annual plantings in the past and Gala peaked at 25 percent.

Newly planted trees produce few apples in their first two years, so Anderson and other growers will knock them off early so the tree’s energy will go toward growth.

Lynnell Brandt, president of Proprietary Variety Management, a Yakima, Wash., company WSU hired to help manage the commercialization of Cosmic Crisp, estimates that nearly 200,000, 40-pound boxes of Cosmic Crisp apples will debut in U.S. stores from the 2019 crop. That will jump to 1.9 million boxes in 2020, 5 million in 2021 and 9 million in 2022.

At the Washington State Tree Fruit Association meeting last December, Robert Kershaw, president of Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima, said such an accelerated ramp-up has never before been tried. He called it “insanity” and a “gamble” that could end in reward or failure and said it would take the whole industry pulling together to write the Cosmic Crisp success story.

West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, said the fastest switch in the consumption of varieties will happen over a five-year span that will “blow people’s hair back.” In the last two seasons, prices for Red Delicious and Gala have crashed because of too much volume and loss of consumer popularity.

Brandt anticipates Cosmic Crisp will replace large amounts of Reds and Gala in relatively short order. Older strains of Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Cameo and Jonagold and even Honeycrisp numbers will diminish, he said.

The new mix will be Cosmic Crisp and proprietary varieties, along with some Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp.

Ricardo Sanchez notches a rootstock stem for a bud from the Cosmic Crisp™ limbs in his left hand. Eduardo Morales, behind him, wraps the bud in plastic at Willow Drive Nursery near Ephrata, Wash., on Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Dan Wheat.

Ricardo Sanchez notches a rootstock stem for a bud from the Cosmic Crisp™ limbs in his left hand. Eduardo Morales, behind him, wraps the bud in plastic at Willow Drive Nursery near Ephrata, Wash., on Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Dan Wheat.

“We are hopeful Cosmic Crisp can be the new flagship of the industry. We have that hope because it’s such a good apple and because the entire industry will be working to promote the brand in a very positive light and the industry has some exclusivity in the North American market, which can enhance the focus,” Brandt said. Washington growers will be the sole source of the new apple in North America for the first decade.

Kershaw heads a committee of most of the state’s major tree fruit companies advising Brandt on marketing.

“It’s not without conflict but conflict is good to sort out all the issues and have a good healthy debate and to make sure we are looking at everything from all angles and perspectives,” Kershaw said.

The committee has reached a consensus on every main decision, including uniform packaging. Grading standards are next and will need to be tightly managed to ensure a successful launch, he said.

Financial hopes

CC-Growers_Pin_Hopes-5.jpg

Honeycrisp is a big money-maker for the industry, but its margins have begun to narrow as volume has increased. It’s common for Honeycrisp to sell at wholesale in the $50-$70 per box range while most other unmanaged varieties do well to reach $30. Break-even for orchards is typically about $17 a box.

For Cosmic Crisp, “the expectation is Honeycrisp pricing, but the consumer will decide. If they sell well at high prices, prices will stay high. If they don’t, prices will need to come down to generate more momentum,” Kershaw said.

Red Delicious, the volume king for 82 years, peaked at 61.4 million boxes in 1994 but was still at 39.5 million boxes this year, almost one-third of the state’s apple production.

While the volume of Red Delicious has held up, its price hasn’t. It was selling for $11 to $14.90 per box for standard grade, medium size on June 7. In 2014, it bottomed out at $8 per box. At those prices, growers make no money and packer-shipper-marketers, who get their cut first, make little to nothing.

Grower costs and packing, shipping and marketing costs all vary, but Anderson, the Manson grower, said on a $30 box of fruit the grower makes one-third and on a $50 box the grower can make two-thirds.

Even the popular Honeycrisp has not performed well for him.

“I have not done well with Honeycrisp,” he says. “My packouts are poor.”

Cosmic Crisp should provide better returns than Honeycrisp because production costs will be lower and storage and packouts — after cull apples are taken out — will be better, Brandt said. He believes the new apple will top 30 million boxes annually.

If those numbers hold true and the price stays high, the payoff for the industry would be impressive.

In round numbers, just a 10 million-box crop of Cosmic Crisp that sells for $30 per box would gross $300 million; at $50 per box, the crop would gross $500 million.

WSU will get a royalty of 4.75 percent of every box that sells for more than $20. On a $500 million crop, 4.75 percent is $23.7 million. There’s also a $1 royalty on every tree sold for planting. Trees generally cost $9, including the royalty. On 10 million trees sold, the royalty is $10 million.

Of those total royalties, around 20 percent will go for commercialization costs including patenting and Proprietary Variety Management’s fee, said James Moyer, associate dean of research at WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. Neither he nor PVM’s Brandt would disclose the management fee.

Of the remaining royalties, 10 percent will go to the WSU Office of Commercialization; 10 percent will go to the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences; 30 percent will be shared by the breeders; and 50 percent will go to WSU plant breeding programs with a majority earmarked for apple breeding, Moyer said.

“We’re discussing ways in which we could create an endowment or some other vehicle to keep the apple breeding program secure for many years to come,” Moyer said.

“We are extremely proud of the breeding program and the excitement it has generated in the industry and we are encouraged by how the industry has come together to cooperate and guide us in the licensing, marketing and developing standards,” Moyer said.

Article by Dan Wheat, Capital Press