Washington growers can now obtain licenses to plant WA 2 on a commercial basis. WA 2 is the first apple variety from Washington State University’s breeding program.
The commercialization phase is the fifth phase in WSU’s variety evaluation and commercialization program. Only growers who have already signed up to take part in widescale evaluation (phase 4) can acquire licenses to grow varieties commercially.
The 136 growers who signed evaluation agreements for WA 2 a year ago can now convert those agreements to commercial licenses. The commercial license allows growers to sell fruit in any volume anywhere in the world.
Signups for phase 4 will be accepted until March 31 this year and between December and March for the next three years. Tom Auvil, research horticulturist with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which is licensed to commercialize the varieties, said that if growers sign evaluation agreements during the current sign-up period, they can convert those agreements to commercial licenses as soon as the paperwork is complete. “You don’t need to wait a year to get a license,” he said.
To take part in phase 4, growers must sign an agreement with the WSU Research Foundation, which owns the varieties. This allows them to plant five trees of the variety at up to three sites at a cost of $600 per site. They acquire the trees, which are supplied by Willow Drive Nursery, Ephrata, under a lease-option agreement.
Dr. Kate Evans, WSU apple breeder, said she is hoping that growers who sign up to grow the varieties will be willing to allow their name to be shared with others who are growing them. This will allow smaller growers to group together to work on marketing or other issues. Otherwise, it would be difficult for them to know who has the variety and who hasn’t.
“I think it’s important that growers know if they signed up and are interested in moving forward, they could easily find partners if they chose to do that,” she said.
Signups for the WA 2 widescale evaluation phase last year were lower than anticipated. As a result, Willow Drive Nursery, Ephrata, which propagates the evaluation trees, had an excess inventory of 8,200 trees, which were lined out at the nursery. They were available for commercial plantings this spring on a first-come-first-served basis, Auvil said, and several companies expressed interest.
The royalty is $1 per tree or $1,000 per acre. Growers planting at lower densities will probably opt to pay the per-tree royalty while those planting more than 1,000 trees per acre can pay the per-acre royalty, Auvil said. The tree royalties are set to rise for future plantings, when production of the variety exceeds 250,000 boxes or more than 350 acres are planted. There are no production royalties.
Several Washington nurseries have signed propagation agreements and are expected to supply WA 2 trees or other planting material for growers on a contract basis. The nurseries include: Van Well Nursery, Gold Crown Nursery, and C & O Nursery in Wenatchee; Columbia Basin Nursery in Quincy; Cameron Nursery in Eltopia; and Willow Drive.
Auvil said once growers have commercial licenses, they can order as many trees as they want from nurseries or start grafting over trees or growing their own, but they will have to pay royalties.
WA 5 is just moving into the widescale evaluation phase (phase 4). During the same sign-up phase, ending this March, Washington growers can obtain five trees for up to three sites, in the same way as with WA 2.
Willow Drive Nursery has 2,200 WA 5 trees for planting this spring, according to company President Ken Adams. Sign-up periods for WA 5 will again be held between December and March for the next four years. Auvil said no date has been set yet for WA 5 to move into the commercialization phase.
Application forms for Phase 4 trees of WA 2 and WA 5 can be found on the Research Commission’s Web site at www.treefruitresearch.org.