A new game
New apple varieties from Washington State University's breeding program present opportunities for the state's growers, said Tom Auvil, research horticulturist with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.
WSU has just released the first variety from its breeding program, WA 2, and has more in the pipeline. These varieties will be available to any Washington grower, though only the growers who take part in the evaluation process will earn commercialization rights.
"I think the big game changer for Washington growers will be the WSU releases," Auvil said. "Many of them are very promising commercial varieties with the potential for good packouts, and good market reception."
He believes they will be a better bet for Washington growers than some of the new European varieties that are being commercialized in North America. The WSU varieties were selected specifically for their long storability and shelf life, whereas European variety developers often focus on disease resistance.
"The genetics are not complete in trying to separate terrible fruit quality problems from the disease-resistance traits," Auvil said, noting that disease-resistance varieties have tended to lack the appearance and eating quality necessary to be commercial successes.
One of the biggest fears concerning the WSU varieties has been that they are being released without a defined marketing plan, Auvil said. During the evaluation process, it will be up to the growers and marketers to choose a variety to establish and take to market, and then it will be up to them to name and promote the new product.
"We didn't want to predetermine what the marketing plan was for a long period of time because we've seen retail change dramatically and feel that a complicated, expensive, up-front process would reduce the ability to take these products to market," he said. "That's what this program is about—to make distinctive, high-quality products readily available to growers and allow the industry to sidestep commodity wars in the global market, for example Chinese Fuji, Chinese Gala, and so on."