Will the flood of new varieties just confuse consumers?
The flood of new apple varieties will continue until the consumer is so confused about the Washington apple identity that they might turn to something else that they can identify, predicts Dr. Don Heinicke, a grower at Orondo in north central Washington. Heinicke was asked to revisit the 1987 article and fast-forward to the future..
"The next decade may see Washington return to fewer varieties that we can grow as no one else can," he said. "Then, we will once again have something to promote. Volume is essential to cost-effective promotion."
The markets for Gala, Fuji, and Granny Smith apples were established by other apple industries around the world before they were introduced in Washington, Heinicke noted. He thinks it will be difficult for the large number of new varieties to reach adequate volumes in the next decade.
Despite the late Grady Auvil's proclamation of a couple of decades ago that "Red is dead," Red Delicious remains Washington's flagship variety, Heinicke points out. "Our Reds are distinct and will still be around in the next decade. They may still be the largest volume."
The only growth he foresees for the next decade is in the export market, where the Washington Apple Commission is promoting Washington apples. The domestic market is flat. Overproduction without proper promotion, and the problems associated with that, may avert any future labor crisis.
"There are a lot of smart people in the industry," Heinicke said. "In the next decade, they will figure out how to establish another legal and acceptable Washington apple advertising and promotion commission. How will they handle club varieties?"
He expects to see the small grower fade further into the background as the large grower-shippers continue to grow. As those companies increase their volume to balance their operations, they will control what fruit will and will not be packed.
In 1987, a year when the industry produced a large volume of poor-quality fruit, Heinicke said the industry would have to start managing for quality. He believes that the focus on quality will need to continue.
"In the next decade, there will be increased effort, in the field, pack house, and market to determine the proper stage of maturity to supply the consumer with a good (great) product," he said. "We have been working with Red Delicious for over 80 years and still have problems. Is some factor other than quality the problem?"
He recalls that U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Dr. Edwin Smith made an interesting and humorous presentation at a Washington State Horticultural Association meeting in the 1940s on the need to invent a fruit that would explode when it reached a stage of overmaturity, thus keeping it out of the market.
Heinicke believes that advances in technology will be slow to be incorporated into management practices, since growers are working with a perennial plant, but said the industry needs to get started.