WSU selections available for tasting, during a new variety showcase at the Washington State Horticultural Association's annual meeting.

WSU selections available for tasting, during a new variety showcase at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting.

Washington apple growers are being offered the opportunity to evaluate Washington State University’s new variety WA2 in their orchards.

WSU has licensed the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission to make WA2 available to the Washington apple industry. Under an agreement drawn up between the Research Commission and the WSU Research Foundation, which owns the variety, only growers who take part in the evaluations will be allowed to grow it commercially.

WSU’s breeding program puts potential new varieties through several phases of testing. In phase one, seedlings from crosses are evaluated in WSU orchards. In phase two, selected grower-cooperators evaluate several trees per selection. In phase three, larger numbers of trees are evaluated in about four commercial orchards in different parts of the state. Phase four involves widescale evaluation by commercial growers, and phase five is the commercial phase.

Only growers who take part in phase-four testing will be eligible to grow the varieties commercially (phase five), so if growers think they might be interested, they should sign up as evaluators, Brent Milne, a member of the breeding program’s Industry Advisory Council, told growers at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting. In phase five, evaluation contracts will be converted to nonexclusive commercial licenses.

“Phase-four evaluation is the point of access for the grower to get into the program and test drive the variety,” Milne said.

Viable releases

Washington State University launched its apple-breeding program in 1994. WA2 is the first variety to be released. About nine other varieties are in phase-three testing.

Five thousand WA2 trees will be available this spring for phase-four testing. Only active apple growers who pay an assessment to the Washington Apple Commission are eligible to be evaluators. Each grower may plant five trees at up to three sites. Phase four will be open to growers for five years. To participate, growers need to submit applications to the Research Commission between January and March 31 each year, so enough nursery trees can be produced. Willow Drive Nursery has produced virus-free mother trees and will supply the nursery trees for evaluation. Milne said growers must use certified virus-free wood from Willow Drive.

The cost for five trees at one site is $600. For two sites (10 trees), the fee is $1,200, and for three sites (15 trees), the cost is $1,800. Shipping and handling fees are included. Application forms are on the Research Commission’s Web site at www.treefruitresearch.com.

Tom Auvil, research horticulturist with the Research Commission, said a site is defined as a contiguous parcel that does not cross county lines. Growers who have more than one legal entity in their operation need to choose an entity that will grow WA2. Alternatively, if all the entities want to grow the variety, each one needs to become an evaluator.

Should there be applications to plant more than the 5,000 trees available, they will be allocated pro rata, Milne said. Technical advice is available from the WSU apple-breeding program, the Industry Advisory Council, or the Research Commission.

Phase 5

In the commercial phase, royalties will be charged as a one-time payment based on total production of the variety (see “Royalty schedule for WA2″). While production is below 250,000 boxes, the royalty will be $1 per tree or $1,000 per acre. All sports of the variety will belong to WSU.

The costs of obtaining and maintaining legal protection for the variety will be deducted from the royalty income. Fifty percent of the remainder will go to WSU’s Agricultural Research Center to support the breeding program. Retired WSU breeder Dr. Bruce Barritt, who developed the variety, will receive 30 percent, the Research Foundation 10 percent, and the Agricultural Research Center the remaining 10 percent, not specifically designated for the breeding program.

Milne said WSU would continue to refer to the new apple as WA2, giving producers the opportunity to market it under their own trademarks. “It’s up to the creativity of the growers and marketing outfits putting the wheels on this thing and making it go forward,” he said. “We’re just trying to get the best products for the industry to take to market. We are not a marketing organization.”

Auvil said WSU is hoping to have one or two viable releases per year, as no single apple variety is going to meet the needs of all consumers.