WSU releases promising apple
Changes to the commercialization process are being considered.
WSU’s newest variety, WA 38, is a cross of Enterprise and Honeycrisp.
Washington State University has released a third apple variety and is discussing new ways to introduce this and future varieties to the state’s producers.
The latest release, WA 38, is a cross of Enterprise and Honeycrisp, and it’s one that both the university and producers are excited about. It has a dark red skin and a crisp, light texture. Dr. Kate Evans, WSU’s pome fruit breeder, said it has good eating quality and long storability.
The industry has shown a huge amount of interest in this new variety, and the university is optimistic that growers will plant significant acreages, Evans said, but just how WA 38 will be commercialized is under discussion.
Varieties developed by WSU’s breeding programs are owned by the WSU Research Foundation. Before WSU released its first apple variety three years ago, the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which has provided significant funding for the breeding program, negotiated with the foundation for the rights to commercialize that and future varieties.
An industry Advisory Council was set up to work with WSU to develop a process for introducing them to the industry, and a nonprofit management entity was to be established to manage the process, though that’s not yet in existence.
The previous two releases were WA 2, an apple that the industry has shown some interest in, and WA 5, which has been dropped from the commercialization process because of internal condition problems noticed during postharvest evaluations.
Evans said WSU and the commission are looking for ways to improve the commercialization process, so it’s less confusing to people. Many have wondered why the varieties were released without names. “We’re looking to see if we can do a better job with WA 38 than we have done so far,” she said. “It’s all a learning curve.”
Tom Kelly, technology licensing officer at the WSU Research Foundation, said there have been discussions between the foundation and the Research Commission on how to proceed with WA 38, which seems a particularly promising variety. He said the foundation suggested some changes for the commission to consider.
“We need to modify the approach,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of years with the first two varieties, and we’ve learned some things. We’re trying to take the best path forward with the next one and figure out how to do it.”
Kelly said the commercialization agreement between the foundation and the commission has gone through many iterations but has never been signed.
WSU is taking a cautious approach, particularly in view of the lawsuit that the University of Minnesota faced over the commercialization of its new variety SweeTango, he added. “We just have to figure out what makes the most sense for the industry.”
Evans said trees of WA 38 are being propagated by nurseries for planting in 2013, though how they will be made available to growers is still not known.
Jim McFerson, manager of the Research Commission, said he does not expect the commercialization process to change radically, and the commission is still proceeding with creating a management entity.
“The parties involved need to figure out the best way forward,” he said. “We have always emphasized that the process we created is one that’s expected to be revised and expected to be improved.
“We have always been clear and open that we wanted to make the process better, and it possibly would change with every cultivar,” he added. “One size doesn’t fit all.”