Washington State University plans to hold a lottery next year to assign trees of its new apple variety, WA 38, to growers. Trees will be available, only to Washington growers, for planting in 2017.
Growers are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to plant WA 38, which originated from a cross of Enterprise and Honeycrisp made by former breeder Dr. Bruce Barritt 16 years ago. It is a deep red apple that’s been highly rated for its sweet, tangy flavor and has exceptional storability.
Washington State nurseries are propagating the variety and ramping up the number of trees as quickly as possible. Dr. Jim Moyer, director of WSU’s Agricultural Research Center, said the variety has received rave reviews and the university decided to delay release of the variety until 2017 to ensure that enough trees would be available to meet the anticipated demand.
“In 2016, we might have 30,000 trees, and we have single orders that would take as many 50,000 trees,” he said. “But if we wait an extra year, we’re going to have in the range of 300,000 to 400,000 trees.”
The lottery will be conducted in May or June of 2014 so that nurseries can bud trees for successful growers next summer and growers can have the ground ready for planting in 2017.
“Everyone will know way in advance,” Moyer said. “The nurseries will know, the growers will be committed, and the packers and shippers can start developing their plans. This is part of the organized strategy for the success of this variety so we’re not just leaving things to chance.”
The lottery will have a two-tiered structure to serve the needs of both small growers who just want to try a few trees and large growers who might want to plant 10 to 15 acres. Unsuccessful applicants will need to wait until the following year for trees.
When WSU announced its release strategy in October, the apple did not yet have a brand name. WSU was using focus groups and market research to choose a name that evokes the apple’s attributes, and Moyer expected to be able to announce the name this fall.
Also, the university had not yet finalized an agreement with a company that specializes in managing proprietary varieties and will assist with branding and collecting royalties on the new variety. Moyer said he expected to be able to announce the name of the company at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting in December in Wenatchee, where he will explain the release strategy and answer questions.
WA 38 is WSU’s third apple release. “There’s a couple of releases that we just put out there in the past, and nobody’s ever heard of them and probably never will,” Moyer said. “It’s important that we get this right. If the apple isn’t successful, growers who invest in it will lose their investment. We will do our best to make sure the new apple is a success so that doesn’t happen.”
Dr. Kate Evans, WSU’s apple breeder, will have a poster at the December meeting describing WA 38 and WA 2 (the university’s first apple release). She will offer tastings of those apples as well as advanced selections from the program. WSU’s second release, WA 5, proved to be prone to browning in storage and is no longer being pursued. •