Though Cosmic Crisp is still a couple of years away from store shelves, stakeholders are already discussing how to spend the money it will make.
PVM projects 9 million 40-pound boxes on store shelves in 2022. Even if they sell for only $20 per box — an extremely low estimate — that would generate $180 million in sales. Washington State University charges 4.25 percent in royalties, meaning $7.65 million for one year. That doesn’t include royalties growers pay for each tree they purchase.
As spelled out in the faculty manual, half of those royalties will go to the breeders, the university’s Office of Commercialization and the university’s Agricultural Research Center. The second half must be set aside for the “enhancement of vegetatively propagated variety programs in consultation with the breeders.” Fruit trees are propagated vegetatively or by grafting; grains such as wheat and barely are propagated by seed.
The university is forming a committee of packers, growers and other industry stakeholders to devise a blueprint for how that second portion of the royalties are distributed. University officials hope to convene the group this summer, Hulbert and Moyer said. One idea is to create an endowment, designed to fund the program’s work regardless of what happens to prices and the market. “You never know how long this wave is going to last.”
That’s how the University of Minnesota handles royalties from its varieties, Honeycrisp, for which its patent has run out, SweeTango, Frost Bite and others. Rave will join the list soon.
The endowment of the Minnesota breeding program now stands at $1.6 million, said Jim Luby, director of fruit breeding programs, which is designed to help sustain the program in lean years. “You just don’t get hits that often,” Luby said. “It’s wonderful to have something like a Honeycrisp or a Cosmic Crisp, but those won’t come around every five years.”
The Minnesota program has released 24 new varieties to the world in its time. The state was once known for Haralson, a popular regional cultivar released in 1922 and the most widely grown apple in Minnesota until Honeycrisp was released in 1991.
Cornell, with 66 apple varieties under its belt, does not set aside royalties into an endowment, said breeder Susan Brown, creator of SnapDragon and RubyFrost, though she thinks that’s a good idea for WSU’s Cosmic Crisp royalties.
Minnesota’s breeding efforts are funded only through general taxes. At Cornell and WSU, the industry contributes directly through grower research assessments. The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission recently approved another year of WSU apple scion development, led by Evans, to the tune of $268,000. Evans also receives grants from other organizations.
Besides the grants, the Research Commission partners directly with the breeding program to manage grower evaluations and directly carries out some supporting research. All told, over the past 10 years, the commission has funded $3.1 million worth of activities related to the breeding program.
The growers would like to change their funding role in the future, said Mike Willett, manager of the Research Commission. They don’t plan to withdraw their support, but they think royalties should fund the basic program, from crossing through fruit evaluation, while the commission’s grants go to new ideas and experiments.
“The use of royalty funds to support the core activities of the breeding program would free grower resources to allow greater emphasis on funding novel and emerging research directions in the apple breeding program,” he said.
Some growers on the commission contacted by Good Fruit Grower deferred comments to Willett.
Moyer and Evans are glad to hear growers are willing to continue funding at some level. They believe that industry investment will keep growers and packers “at the table,” as Evans described it, involved in the decision making and creativity.
“One of the strengths of this program is that it’s so interactive with the industry,” Evans said.
Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower