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WA 2, the first release of Washington State University's apple breeding program, is a blushed, orange-red apple.

WA 2, the first release of Washington State University’s apple breeding program, is a blushed, orange-red apple.

GERALDINE WARNER

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission is in the process of setting up a nonprofit organization to manage Washington State University’s new tree fruit varieties.

Once the 501(c)(3) organization is set up, the Research Commission will be officially licensed to commercialize the varieties, which are owned and patented by the WSU Research Foundation. The commercialization agreement between the commission and the foundation has not yet been signed, said Tom Kelly, the university’s technology licensing associate.

Dr. Jim McFerson, manager of the Research Commission, said the commission has been moving ahead slowly. It had to work with the Washington State Attorney ­General’s office and Department of Agriculture to revise its enabling legislation so it could set up the new ­organization.

The tree fruit entity will handle the day-to-day management of the WSU tree fruit releases as well as other products that growers have made a significant investment in, McFerson said. It will have a board of directors that will probably be made up of five to seven appointees of the Washington Apple Commission, Washington State Fruit Commission, and Research Commission.

The breeding program has an Industry Advisory Council, whose members consult with WSU apple breeder Dr. Kate Evans on selection and evaluation. The council will continue to be involved in the evaluation phases, while the management entity will take charge of varieties when they reach the commercialization phase. Brent Milne, chair of the advisory council, said the commission is working to get the new entity in place, though it’s taking longer than expected. He thought it might be created by this summer. “It’s definitely a work in progress,” he said.

Potato Institute

Its rules and responsibilities still need to be defined, but the “ad hoc management entity,” as the commission calls it, should look similar to the Potato Variety Management Institute, McFerson said. The institute is a nonprofit, grower-controlled company created to return the value of new potato varieties developed in the Northwest to the breeding program.

Objectives of the potato institute include:

  • Supporting development of varieties
  • Administering license and royalty fees from all growers who benefit from the varieties in order to return a ­benefit to the breeding program
  • Expediting access to new varieties by accelerated commercialization, allowing growers to evaluate the performance of new cultivars sooner in the development cycle

Earlier this year, orchardists who have been evaluating WA 2 were able to convert their evaluation agreements to licenses to grow the variety commercially. Growers can order WA 2 from several nurseries in Washington that are propagating trees. Several thousand trees have been planted for evaluation, but Evans said she thought it would be a couple of years before commercial-size ­plantings go in the ground.