Twenty-four lucky Washington growers will be able to plant Washington State University’s new apple variety, WA 38, in 2017. Other Washington growers will have to wait until 2018.
Although WA 38 (brand name Cosmic Crisp) will be available at first on a limited basis, it is not being managed as a club variety. All Washington growers will be entitled to grow as much of the variety as they like, once enough trees are available.
WSU has contracted with a company called Proprietary Variety Management to commercialize the variety, and PVM has granted propagation rights to nurseries who are members of the Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute. They are: C&O Nursery, Van Well Nursery, Willow Drive Nursery, Cameron Nursery, Gold Crown Nursery, and Brandt’s Fruit Trees.
The nurseries have enough propagation material to produce 300,000 trees for planting in 2017. After that, it’s expected that there will be plenty of trees available to meet demand.
WSU held a drawing this summer to allocate those initial 300,000 trees to growers. The random drawing, which attracted 458 grower applicants, was conducted in two tiers—one with 12 lots of between 3,000 and 5,000 trees each, and a second tier with 12 lots of up to 20,000 trees each. The 24 winners will arrange with one of the six licensed nurseries to receive the trees in 2017.
Tom Kelly, with the WSU Research Foundation, said a royalty of $1 a tree will be charged, but there will be no acreage or membership fee. He said the university wanted to keep royalties at a level that would encourage growers to plant the variety.
There will be a production royalty based on the f.o.b. price per 40-pound box of apples. For sales at less than $20 a box, no royalty will be due. At between $20 and $35, the royalty will be $1 a box. At between $35 and $50 a box, it will be $2, and at $50 or higher, it will be $3 a box.
Brent Milne, horticulturist with McDougall and Sons and chair of WSU’s Cultivar Licensing Committee, said he was not aware of any pushback from the industry on the proposed royalty rates. “There’s nothing but excitement about this variety,” he said.
Research by WSU shows that consumers are excited, too, Dr. Kate Evans, WSU pome fruit breeder, reports. In consumer taste tests last season, WA 38 was compared with Honeycrisp at three times of year (October, December, and March). The fruit tasted in October and December had been held in regular-atmosphere storage and fruit tasted in March was held in controlled-atmosphere storage. The Honeycrisp apples had been treated with MCP, but WA 38 had not.
In October, consumers slightly preferred the taste, appearance, and flavor of Honeycrisp though there was a slight preference for the texture of WA 38. In December, they preferred the appearance of Honeycrisp but the taste, flavor and texture of WA 38. In March, they preferred WA 38 all across the board.
“We were really enthused by this,” Evans said, noting the exceptional storability of WA 38.
WSU selected the brand name Cosmic Crisp for the apple after receiving input from consumer focus groups in Pullman, Seattle, and Yakima. PVM also conducted a poll on Facebook and interviews with grocery store shoppers. Consumers much preferred the name Cosmic Crisp to the other finalists, Zanita and Tempo. Part of the appeal was the allusion to Honeycrisp, one of WA 38’s parents. PVM will meet with apple marketers to get feedback on a logo that is being developed.
Dr. Stefano Musacchi, pome fruit horticulturist with WSU in Wenatchee, said WA 38 is a vigorous tip-bearing tree with a drooping growth habit similar to Granny Smith’s. The tree will continue to grow even after it begins to crop.
It is a mid-season bloomer, so it is not particularly sensitive to frost, but it tends to produce secondary bloom, increasing the risk of fireblight, especially in young orchards.
Musacchi said there is no difficulty setting a crop. “The strange and positive thing is the fruit singles out by itself—it’s natural—so there’s not much need for hand thinning.”
It has a tendency to produce blind wood. Musacchi has found tipping at green tip to be a successful strategy for managing it. Bending branches down to horizontal without tipping only increases the problem, he warned.
Ines Hanrahan, research scientist with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said WA 38, which is a cross of Enterprise and Honeycrisp, matures at about the same time as Red Delicious, in late September. It’s a fairly large apple. Fruit from five-year-old test trees in Quincy last year peaked on size 72 with a crop equivalent to 70 bins per acre.
It’s also firm and sweet, but with a relatively high acid level. Hanrahan said at maturity firmness can be 20 pounds, with a Brix level above 13 and acidity in the 0.7 to 0.8 percent range. It should be a one-pick variety, and indications are that it will have a wide picking window for long-term storage—perhaps as long as a week in some cases.
“It’s totally possible to store this fruit in regular atmosphere for six months,” Hanrahan said.
Tests show that it’s not necessary to treat WA 38 with MCP. This should make the variety interesting to organic producers, who can’t use MCP.
What should make it interesting to all growers is its apparent lack of defects. One of the few postharvest problems that’s been noticed is some greasiness, mainly in fruit of advanced maturity not treated with MCP. Sunburn can be managed with evaporative cooling, Hanrahan said. There have been some stem punctures, a problem attributed to the large size of the fruit from young trees. Scald has never been seen, even on relatively immature fruit.
So far, only a small volume of fruit has been available for testing This year, there will be sufficient volume from test sites to run the apples across a commercial packing line and analyze packouts, Hanrahan said. •