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Fuji proved to be more difficult to grow and pack than Grady Auvil imagined. Fuji is in his right hand and Cameo in his left.

Fuji proved to be more difficult to grow and pack than Grady Auvil imagined. Fuji is in his right hand and Cameo in his left.

The late Grady Auvil, an orchardist at Orondo, Washington, was one of the state’s pioneers of Granny Smith, but it was Fuji, which came along a little later, that excited him the most.

By the mid-1980s, Auvil had already profited from high early prices for Granny Smiths and was experimenting with Gala and Fuji. After thoroughly testing Fuji, he declared he didn’t expect a better variety to come along in the next 50 years.

Fuji, a cross of Ralls Janet and Delicious, was bred at the Morioka Fruit Tree Research ­Station in Japan. It was selected in 1958 and released in 1962. It was not named after Mount Fuji but was named for the town of Fujisaki in the Aomori Prefecture, where the cross and selection were made.

Fuji quickly became an important cultivar in Japan, taking the place of Ralls Janet and Jonathan. The fruit is bicolored and medium to large, with crisp, sweet, juicy flesh. It often develops watercore in Japan, where it is harvested in mid-November.

It was introduced to the United States in the early 1960s, but was not grown in significant quantities until the early 1990s.

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Auvil first tasted Fuji in California before planting it himself. In 1989, he made the front page of the Wall Street Journal when he declared that: “The Fuji is going to be No. 1 to replace Red Delicious.”

In 1989, Washington State produced 55 million boxes of Red ­Delicious and its Fuji volume was too insignificant to report, but Fuji ­volumes increased rapidly over the next few years, reaching 7 million boxes by 1996.

That was the year that Japan hosted a World Fuji Conference, where growers from around the world shared their experiences of growing the variety—both good and bad. Already, many growers in the hotter parts of California were pulling out Fuji orchards because the fruit did not color well, and was susceptible to sunburn.

In Washington, growers were battling blind wood and biennial ­bearing, and also learning that the variety was prone to develop internal browning and a brown skin staining.

Some growers bagged individual apples on the tree to improve fruit finish, a practice borrowed from Japan. Bagged apples developed a luminous pinkish-red color and were exported or sold to upscale markets in the United States. When properly done, bagging could boost f.o.b. prices by up to $40 a box. It was estimated that in 1994, between 15 and 20 million bags were applied to apples in Washington State and British Columbia, Canada.

Soon, however, enthusiasm for the labor-intensive process waned, and many growers dismissed bagging as “more pain than gain.”

As the state’s Fuji production grew, Auvil had to reassess the variety’s ­potential.

“I didn’t anticipate it would have this many problems,” he told the Good Fruit Grower in 1998, when he was 93 years old. “It’s probably the most difficult ­variety I have ever seen, to get it at the quality you want. It’s no problem getting tonnage, but the quality is the problem. There’s a lot of Fujis being sold I would not even let in the house.”

Although Auvil is credited with leading the Fuji trend in Washington, he said in a Good Fruit Grower interview that he didn’t really promote Fuji to the industry. “I said it was the only apple I knew to be a world-class apple. That’s what I said, and they planted the heck out of it.”

The 2010 U.S. Fuji crop was estimated at 20 million boxes, of which 15 million were grown in Washington State. It is the state’s third-ranking ­variety after Red Delicious and Gala. However, a recent acreage survey showed that there are more Fuji apple trees in the ground than of any other variety.