A group called New York Apple Growers, LLC, has been formed to commercialize apple varieties developed by Cornell University, New York.
Roger Lamont, chair of the group, said that Cornell plans to release two new varieties soon and has applied for patents for them. Earlier this year, the university invited proposals from entities interested in growing, packing, marketing, and selling Cornell’s advanced apple selections. New York Apple Growers was the only one to submit a proposal by the July 1 deadline, Lamont said, and he expected that the group would ultimately sign an agreement with Cornell.
"They need us and we need them," he commented. "We’re a New York group set up to handle New York varieties. We have a pretty detailed business plan."
Under the plan, the new varieties, whose development was supported by New York taxpayers, will be offered exclusively to New York growers. All New York growersfrom farm marketers to commercial wholesalerswill have an opportunity to grow them. The initial investment will correlate to the size of the business.
Lamont said New York Apple Growers did not think the club variety concept was appropriate for New York, which does not have many large growers. His organization has 585 growers on its mailing list, but many of those are farm marketers. He estimates that the state has only about 150 commercial growers who have more than 100 acres. New York produces about 29 million bushels of apples annually, of which between a half and two-thirds are sold fresh.
Cornell’s apple breeding program has been focusing on developing varieties that are tailored to New York’s growing conditions and consumer preferences in the Northeast, Lamont said. "We think we need different varieties in the Northeast than the Northwest needs."
McIntosh, one of New York’s top varieties, is still in demand, Lamont said, but however good the existing varieties are, consumers are always looking for new products. In recent years, the best returns to the grower have come from the newer varieties.
"The standard varieties pay the bills, but the new varieties make the profits to replant," he said. "We just feel we have to have new varieties in the Northeast to keep up with the rest of the world."
The New York apple industry is expanding as a result of good returns for the last couple of crops, Lamont said. Growers are planting at higher densities, with trees on a 3-meter by 1-meter (10- by 3.25-foot) spacing. He expects they will use the new varieties to expand their acreages, rather than replace existing varieties.
Dr. Susan Brown, apple breeder at Cornell, said she was unable to divulge anything about the two prospective releases until the Cornell Research Foundation, which manages the university’s intellectual property, completes its negotiations with NYAG and signs a contract.
Lamont said budwood of both varieties is being propagated, and the first commercial trees of the varieties were budded this summer for planting in 2012. It will be several years before growers have fruit of the new varieties to sell, but NYAG plans to promote them heavily so that they are quickly accepted by the public and growers can plant significant acreage.
Neither the growers nor the breeding program can wait as long as they used to for varieties to become successful, he said. For example, Cornell released Empire in 1966, but it didn’t catch on until the 1980s. The breeding program needs to receive royalties earlier in the life of the 20-year patent.
"In the long run, we’re trying to provide a stream of income to keep the Cornell program at least at its current level."
Jeff Crist of Walden is vice chair of NYAG, Walt Blackler of Lafayette is treasurer, and Bob Norris of Savannah is secretary. Mason Forrence of Peru, New York, is in charge of member relations.