The commercialization plan for WA 38 will be different than for its first release, WA 2.
Washington State University is finalizing a plan for how its second apple variety, WA 38, will be commercialized.
The university will send out an “announcement of opportunity” (similar to a request for proposals) inviting applications for the commercialization license. All interested growers in Washington will be allowed to grow the apple. The holder of the commercialization license will lead the industry’s efforts to establish the variety in the marketplace.
The commercialization plan was drawn up by the Cultivar Licensing Committee, an ad hoc panel set up to advise the university on the release of WSU apple varieties. Committee members include WSU faculty and apple industry representatives.
Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said he expected the request for proposals to go out in March.
The committee recommended that WSU choose a trade name for the variety, and Bernardo said the university was working with consultants who do market analysis to select an appropriate name.
The commercialization plan for WA 38 will differ from the one put in place for WSU’s first apple release, WA 2. The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission negotiated the commercialization rights for WA 2 and handled growers’ applications for trees, but the license agreement between the commission and WSU was never signed, according to Dr. Ralph Cavalieri, director of the university’s Agricultural Research Center. As a state agency, the commission was unable to be involved in promoting and marketing the variety. It intended to set up a nonprofit organization to manage the variety, but that didn’t happen.
Learned a lot
WA 2 was released with no trade name, allowing growers to call the fruit what they wanted—a policy criticized by the industry because of the potential confusion of having an apple with multiple names. There are only about seven acres of WA 2 in commercial plantings so far.
“I don’t want to call it an experiment, but it was the first variety we tried to work on,” Cavalieri said. “We’ve learned a lot, collectively—the industry and us—and I think the way we’re approaching WA 38 is an improvement.
“The big difference is we’re going to put out this announcement of opportunity so it’s open to anyone who wants it,” he added. “There will be performance criteria, and they will execute all the details of developing the market and working with the growers.”
Although the Research Commission is closely involved in the breeding program and has been a major funding source, applicants for the WA 38 license will work directly with WSU, Cavalieri said.
Bernardo said anyone can apply for the WA 38 license. It could be an individual grower shipper, an organization, or a consortium, for example.
“We’re just looking for the best strategy to get this variety in the hands of Washington producers,” he said.
“Certainly, a consortium—if it’s the right consortium—would offer the advantage of having greater geographic distribution and access to a large number of growers, and that’s going to be one of the main criteria we’re going to evaluate them on.
“Everyone has the common goal of having this variety in the hands of as many of the growers as we possibly can, given our various constraints, such as how much budwood we can produce over time.”
The university will be looking for entities with merchandising and marketing expertise. Bernardo said that, in his opinion, the keys to the success of a variety are having enough volume to push through the supply chain to the retail store, securing shelf space, and establishing relationships with retailers.
“Whomever we partner with has to have that capability,” he said. “That’s really what the industry does best.”
Brent Milne, chair of the Cultivar Licensing Committee, said both the committee and the university recognize that many growers are excited about WA 38 and eager to plant trees so they can get fruit to market as soon as possible. However, before growers can do that, nurseries need to establish mother blocks to generate budwood and then propagate trees.
“WSU, from the dean on down, are acutely aware of what has to happen in that process,” Milne said. “I think they’re trying to turn this around just as fast as they possibly can, but there are several components that need to fall into place.
It’s just a process. It takes time, and you have to do it carefully, and they’re doing that, though they have their eye on the fact that they’re going to do this as timely as possible.
“Once it’s out there and everything’s in place, there’s going to be a ramp-up period of time before trees are widely available,” he added. “WSU are keenly aware of the groundswell of interest in the industry for this particular selection. With that in mind, they’re moving towards getting everything in place.”
Dr. Kate Evans, WSU’s apple breeder, said it would probably be 2015 before reasonable numbers of trees are available for commercial plantings. Certified virus-free budwood has gone out to about five or six major nurseries that have expressed interest in the variety, and certified mother trees were planted in 2012. Those nurseries have propagation licenses but don’t yet have tree-sale licenses, she said.
Bernardo said the university is developing a process whereby each new WSU variety will have a unique commercialization strategy to fit that particular apple.
“Obviously, WA 38 has high potential for being a premium apple in the state, if not the world, so the recommendations we have from the committee are different from if we were trying to deal with some of the niche varieties coming out of the program,” he said. “We will treat each one uniquely.”
The university hasn’t yet resolved the question of how to commercialize WA 2.
“My direction was we needed to focus our energies and our intellectual property efforts on WA 38 because our priority was to get 38 out,” Bernardo said. “We certainly will be doubling back and revisiting WA 2 and trying to craft a plan going forward, but we haven’t resolved that issue either internally or with the industry.
“There’s definitely, from what we hear, more interest in 38, but I think WA 2 is still a very viable apple,” he said. “We’re not giving up on WA 2. We think that’s a quality apple. It’s just a matter of continuing to make some changes in our policies and procedures that are going to give it its greatest impact on the industry.”
Cultivar Licensing Committee members included: WSU apple breeder Dr. Kate Evans; Tom Kelly, technology licensing associate at the WSU Research Foundation, which owns the varieties generated by the breeding program; Harold Schell, horticulturist with Chelan Fruit Company; Dale Goldy, a nursery owner and horticulturist with Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee; Kent Waliser, manager of Sagemoor Farms, Pasco; and Peter Verbrugge, a partner at Valley Fruit and president of Sage Fruit Company, Yakima.
For information about the commercialization opportunity (RFP) for WA 38, contact Tom Kelly at the WSU Research Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org.