Red Delicious, though still Washington State’s number-one apple variety, continues its steady decline. Production this year is barely half the volume produced in 1994. Meanwhile, production of Granny Smith, Fuji, and Gala continues to climb. Which variety, if any, is destined to topple Red Delicious?
Grower, Manson, Washington
Gleasman thinks Gala will take the top variety spot because it is still being planted.The other top four varieties—Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Fuji—will still be around, but she expects they will make up a smaller percentage of the crop.
"I think Red Delicious are going to continue to decline, but there’s always going to be a place in the market."
Volumes of club varieties like Jazz and Cameo will be restricted, but she sees increasing interest in Honeycrisp.
"Honeycrisp are coming on strong, and I think they’re going to become one of the major varietals in the state," she added. "They’re a good variety, and the consumer really likes them. But they’re a challenging variety to grow because you have to do a lot of inverse thinking."
The fruit is naturally very large, so it’s the large fruit that is taken off during hand thinning, not the smaller fruit, she said, and that’s a difficult concept to explain to crews.
Horticulturist, Wenatchee, Washington
Brunner, a horticulturist with Columbia Fruit Packers, expects to see Gala replace Red Delicious as Washington’s number-one variety.
"I think Gala will be the number-one apple because of great demand in the marketplace," he said.
Although it’s not a year-round apple, it can be stored for eight or nine months, Brunner said, and it’s popular with growers because it’s easy to grow. It’s also a versatile apple that can be sold as fresh slices or dices for retail or foodservice.
He thinks Granny Smith will be the second most important variety in the state, and Fuji will be in the top five, though it’s a difficult apple to grow. "Trying to get the bins per acre and avoid alternate bearing from year to year—it’s a tough one," he said.
He also noted that Honeycrisp is gaining favor.
Horticulturist, Orondo, Washington
Gala seems to have the right market acceptance and is grower friendly, said Mike Grubbs, a horticulturist with Orondo Fruit Company. "I think production will steadily increase on that variety."
He also expects to see more Fuji production in ten years, particularly of the redder strains, such as Aztec, which color better and have less watercore and better internal quality.
He thinks Red Delicious will gradually go down as a percentage of the crop while the percentage of Gala increases. But Red Delicious will still be a factor, he said, because it’s been profitable for growers who have good production of highly colored strains, and most plantings of the old strains have been removed.
"If you’re in an area where you’re getting 60 to 70 bins per acre of Red Delicious, the costs are low," he said. "And retailers still like that apple. They make money on them."
Grower, Prosser, Washington
Olsen thinks Fuji might become Washington’s number-one variety as growers plant new strains, such as Aztec and Banning Red Fuji. Fuji stores well and provides a good eating experience, he said. "It’s one of those varieties that stays good while other apples are shriveled or rotted."
The older strains of Fuji were not very attractive, but the newer ones are "absolutely beautiful," Olsen said. "The finish on the skin and the bright red color is going, I think, to increase the sales of Fujis. I think you’ll see a lot of Fujis being planted in the next three to five years."
He does not expect to see much more improvement in the Gala variety. The introduction of new strains in the past and the use of SmartFresh (1-methylcyclopropene) to improve storability have played a role in the increasing popularity of Gala in recent years, he said. "But I don’t know that there’s going to be room for additional plantings of Gala. If I had to bet, I would say the new red Fujis are where we’ll see the most growth, and it will be at the expense of Red Delicious. But there may be some new varieties around the corner that will surprise everybody. A lot can happen in ten years."
Washington Growers Clearing House Association
Mayer said Red Delicious is easier to grow and harvest than other varieties, which is an important attribute in the light of labor shortages. It is also more economical to grow for the same reason.
"Usually, you aren’t doing a lot of color picking, so it’s a variety that’s a little more conducive to mass production."
While Red Delicious lost some of its appeal to consumers, Mayer said overall eating quality has improved in recent years. "I think a lot of the orchards that were on marginal lands that weren’t ideal for that particular variety have been removed. We’ve got a higher percentage of the newer strains that color more easily and, because of the shrink in overall volume, the industry is managing that variety better in harvesting and in storing and marketing.
Although Mayer expects to see a slight decline in Red Delicious production, he believes Washington has close to the optimum varietal mix, which is reflected in strong pricing the last few seasons despite large crops.
He expects Gala production will continue to grow but thinks it will remain at the number-two spot.
Nursery Owner, Ephrata, Washington
Not single variety
Adams said he doesn’t see any one variety that stands out above the rest yet. He expects the improved coloring strains of the standard "commodity" varieties will continue to dominate the industry, although there’ll be increasing production of new varieties.
"We’re looking at a lot of new apple selections that are similar to Honeycrisp," he said, "And I think Jazz is a pretty amazing apple. Pacific Rose is a wonderful apple, too, but it’s difficult to grow.
"I don’t see one that’s going to be a real star-spangled banner," he added. "There are going to be a lot of new varieties looked at, but it’s going to take a long time for them to become a major planted variety."