Cosmic Crisp, part of varietal diversification

Bob Larson: Washington Apple Commission president Todd Fryhover says this year’s crop looks to be outstanding…

Todd Fryhover: The weather’s been absolutely perfect on the 2018 crop. You know, we had very little damage through the Winter. Our frost season didn’t really exist, so to speak. There was you know a hail storm here and there, which is actually kind of normal for our industry. So, we’re looking at a good quality crop for 2018.

BL: He says it should at least be a little better than last year…

TF:  I think the sizing will be improved over last year just because we did have smaller sizing. So, we’re very optimistic on the fruit quality, but also the varietal diversification as well.

BL: And that term ‘varietal diversification’ reminds many apple lovers of the much-anticipated Cosmic Crisp…

TF:  From the information that I have, which comes from Proprietary Variety Management, it looks like 2019 is the first year that we have any real commercial volume. We’re looking at 200,000 equivalent cartons available in 2019, but I’m there will be a very limited availability in 2018.

BL: But, Fryhover says if you get a chance to buy Cosmic Crisp, grab some because they’re delicious and store terrifically.

Post-Cosmic Question: What’s next?

With launch of WA 38 underway, WSU’s apple breeding program hopes to build on successes.

 Kate Evans, Washington State University’s pome fruit breeder, is surrounded by her “phase 0” seedlings growing in the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center in Wenatchee, Washington, greenhouses on Monday, April 23, 2018. Evans says even though the breeding program has been around for 24 years, it’s very young compared to other programs around the globe. With Cosmic Crisp a few years away from consumers, she admits there’s mounting pressure to build off its success. However, Evans says the small team makes do using repurposed, antiquated facilities and inadequate staff workspaces that hamper the program’s potential. For instance, this greenhouse and headhouse, once a USDA facility built over 60 years ago, has forced the staff to content with an ever growing list of non-research associated issues, from parts failures, rat invasions and potentially hazardous facility flaws. (Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

Kate Evans, Washington State University’s pome fruit breeder, is surrounded by her “phase 0” seedlings growing in the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center in Wenatchee, Washington, greenhouses on Monday, April 23, 2018. Evans says even though the breeding program has been around for 24 years, it’s very young compared to other programs around the globe. With Cosmic Crisp a few years away from consumers, she admits there’s mounting pressure to build off its success. However, Evans says the small team makes do using repurposed, antiquated facilities and inadequate staff workspaces that hamper the program’s potential. For instance, this greenhouse and headhouse, once a USDA facility built over 60 years ago, has forced the staff to content with an ever growing list of non-research associated issues, from parts failures, rat invasions and potentially hazardous facility flaws. (Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower)

The well-hyped Cosmic Crisp is in the ground and on its way. So, what’s next?

The Washington State University apple breeding program, which released the variety, now stands at a crossroads. Breeder Kate Evans has more potential new varieties in the pipeline. Her greenhouse needs renovations. She wants help in her research orchard.

Meanwhile, though WA 38, to be marketed as Cosmic Crisp, is still a few years from store shelves, the university faces decisions about how to allocate royalties projected to reach millions.

The 24-year-old breeding program is young compared to its competitors around the world. Those of Cornell University and the University of Minnesota date back to the late 1800s. However, the apple industry expects Evans and her team to build off Cosmic’s success.

“Like any breeding program, I’m a firm believer that it should evolve,” Evans told growers in January at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission apple research review in Pasco. “The breeding program at WSU, any breeding program, evolves.”

She and the industry have some suggestions.

Facilities

 For WSU breeding program staff, following in Cosmic Crisp’s success comes with potential pitfalls every day. Staff must navigate through narrow, rotting doorways, step over and around broken and cut concrete floors covered with makeshift steel plating and at worst scrap wood, just to successfully grow future apple varieties. (Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

For WSU breeding program staff, following in Cosmic Crisp’s success comes with potential pitfalls every day. Staff must navigate through narrow, rotting doorways, step over and around broken and cut concrete floors covered with makeshift steel plating and at worst scrap wood, just to successfully grow future apple varieties. (Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower)

Evans seeks more labor to help maintain the Columbia View research orchard north of Wenatchee and more accurate DNA tests to help her genetically screen for a wider array of traits. But facilities’ improvement needs, also near the top of her wish list, may be the most obvious.

Evans and her staff at the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee share a greenhouse and storage with other programs.

The 60-year-old structure with missing floorboards and a stone for a door prop lets in mice and rats attracted to her tender seedlings.

A laminated handwritten sign implores visitors to keep out beans, grains and seeds. Her staff built rat-proof cages out of mesh screens that bolt onto raised wooden frames directly over the plants. So far, that seems to be working, Evans said.

Meanwhile, equipment failures, rust and overcrowding also get in the way of her team’s work, she said.

Upgrades are needed elsewhere at the Wenatchee research center, which has not seen additions since the 1970s. Laboratory space is at a premium. “I got a list of 51 items,” quipped one audience member at the research review.

Growers and researchers are lobbying for a master facilities plan for the research centers in Wenatchee and Prosser, both of which have programs involving tree fruit. The university is working toward one, but it won’t happen all at once, said Scot Hulbert, associate dean of research for WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, or CAHNRS.

Turnover and adding new hires at WSU take time. In May, Hulbert replaced Jim Moyer, who retired, while the agriculture college’s new dean, André-Denis Girard Wright, was scheduled to start June 1.

 Dilapidated makeshift greenhouse benches, screws for holding down protective rat caging, irrigation parts storage… just one example of how the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center facility staff is making do with antiquated facilities and equipment. (Photo by TJ Mulinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

Dilapidated makeshift greenhouse benches, screws for holding down protective rat caging, irrigation parts storage… just one example of how the WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center facility staff is making do with antiquated facilities and equipment. (Photo by TJ Mulinax, Good Fruit Grower)

The university is in the process of hiring a postharvest physiologist and soil specialist for horticultural programs. Those faculty members will have needs for facilities and equipment just to start their jobs. “That’s got to happen now or very soon,” he said.

Like many universities, WSU has a backlog of deferred maintenance. The university has been assessing those needs across the entire campus since last year, said Kimi Lucas, CAHNRS director of operations.

This summer, the two fruit research centers will begin the creation of a long-term plan when an outside design team holds workshops with faculty and staff. Then comes finding a way to pay for the work, through a combination of university funds, grants, endowments, etc., she said.

Part of a recent $32 million endowment from the tree fruit industry, the largest in WSU history, is slated for facilities and research orchard improvements. However, the endowment won’t shoulder the whole burden, Lucas said.

“It would definitely not be only the endowment,” she said.

Changes in the past 10 years

The breeding program was created in 1994. Evans arrived in 2008, after Cosmic Crisp and yet-to-be released selections L and M were first crossed.

Since then, the apple industry has seen numerous changes. Managed varieties, usually in the form of clubs, are on the rise. Honeycrisp has set new expectations among consumers. Technology for DNA marker detection has improved.

Behind it all, Cosmic Crisp has created a new model for releasing apples that skirts the club method but also manages the variety.

Washington growers get exclusive North American rights to propagate and sell Cosmic for the first 10 years while the university contracted with Yakima, Washington-based Proprietary Variety Management, or PVM, to launch the apple commercially.

However, that doesn’t mean other varieties will follow the same path, Moyer said. The university has a cultivar licensing committee to help determine the rollout for each product.

He does not believe the university is required by law to put commercialization of a variety out to public bid, though that’s how PVM was hired for WA 38. “It depends on what the ask is,” Moyer said. If it’s just a matter of issuing a license, probably not, he said; if more services are required, then it might.

PVM also has been contracted to manage WA 2, the apple breeding program’s first apple released in 2009 and trade named Sunrise Magic.

PVM has made no overtures on any further releases, said Moyer and Lynnell Brandt, company president.

 Evans points out cultivars in various stages of development at the Columbia View research orchard near Wenatchee. The row of trees to her right are kept as “mother” trees for new crosses, while the buds to her left are younger trees starting Phase 1. “Every year we plant trees, but every year we take out trees, as well,” she said. (Photo by TJ Mulinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

Evans points out cultivars in various stages of development at the Columbia View research orchard near Wenatchee. The row of trees to her right are kept as “mother” trees for new crosses, while the buds to her left are younger trees starting Phase 1. “Every year we plant trees, but every year we take out trees, as well,” she said. (Photo by TJ Mulinax, Good Fruit Grower)

Royalties

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

Plans Within Plants

Managing sheer number of samples, volume of data is focus for breeding program.

 Kate Evans shows one of the program’s new seedlings and a page from the cross breeding “cull” sheets she and her staff use when moving plant material through the Washington State University pome fruit breeding system in Wenatchee, Washington, on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower )

Kate Evans shows one of the program’s new seedlings and a page from the cross breeding “cull” sheets she and her staff use when moving plant material through the Washington State University pome fruit breeding system in Wenatchee, Washington, on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower)

Breeding fruit poses a monumental logistical challenge.

The plant material, traits and data points of 600 crosses and 300,000 seeds must be counted, labeled, indexed and not only stored accurately, but in a way that’s easy to find.

“One of the biggest challenges in a breeding program is just keeping track of your material,” said Kate Evans, the Washington State University apple breeder who oversees the program that released the much-hyped Cosmic Crisp.

Just take a look at her greenhouse. Tiny green seedlings stretch on tables the length of a basketball court, and that’s just from one year. More grow elsewhere at the university’s research stations and commercial trial blocks throughout the state, either making their way through a breeding journey that lasts 20 years, or waiting on standby to be used as parents.

 The hunt for new varieties continues, as research technician Bonnie Schonberg uses a pencil eraser to apply pollen to the stamens of an unnamed variety at the university’s Sunrise research orchard near Wenatchee. Schonberg previously stripped and emasculated the blooms to isolate the cross pollination. (Photo by Ross Courtney,  Good Fruit Grower )

The hunt for new varieties continues, as research technician Bonnie Schonberg uses a pencil eraser to apply pollen to the stamens of an unnamed variety at the university’s Sunrise research orchard near Wenatchee. Schonberg previously stripped and emasculated the blooms to isolate the cross pollination. (Photo by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower)

The breeding process all starts with the spring cross, gathering flowers in Ziploc bags from “father” trees, collecting their pollen and applying it with the eraser of a pencil to the stigma of “mother” trees — over and over again, row by row, tree by tree.

The seeds sprout in tiny pots made of irrigation pipe segments and spend the first year in the greenhouse slotted in racks of 96 because that’s how many the university’s DNA laboratory analyzes at a time. A staff member’s friend constructed them of plastic mesh especially for the breeding program.

Evans compresses the reams of data into a simple map with green or red for each rack — green for keep, red for cull. The culls are either thrown away or donated as bug food for an entomology project. Their DNA simply did not have the genetic markers of the traits the breeding program seeks.

In spite of technology, it’s all a rough guess. Evans cannot know for sure if she discards an absolute gem, the apple that would redefine apples.

“There’s never really a wow moment,” Evans said. It’s just a huge process of elimination, she said, though she prefers the term “selection.”

The seedlings that make the cut are nurtured at Willow Drive Nursery in nearby Ephrata, then grafted onto Malling 9 rootstocks in an orchard, usually Columbia View, a plot overlooking the Columbia River about 15 miles north of Wenatchee to mature for about three or four years.

Only then do they enter phase one selection based on their growth habits and fruit production. That lasts for about another three or four years. The favorable samples advance to phase two, replicated to 15 trees at three trial sites. Over the winter, Evans predicted 10 new selections would be planted for phase two this year.

Phase three gets serious, with grower evaluations, taste surveys, focus groups and storage tests. The grower-funded Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which funds some of the breeding program’s work, has partnered with the university to manage those phase three trials.

The whole process takes as long as 20 years. 

 (Graphic by Ross Courtney and Jared Johnson,  Good Fruit Grower.  Illustrations provided by WSU)

(Graphic by Ross Courtney and Jared Johnson, Good Fruit Grower. Illustrations provided by WSU)

Meanwhile, Evans keeps many of those crosses passed over in earlier phases, using them as parents for new crosses, meaning her program will continually grow. Her goal is to keep the 20-year pipeline full, so new varieties are always on the way. She does not believe any single apple, even a good one, will prop up Washington’s apple industry by itself.

So far, the university has two cultivars, known as L and M, in phase three. They are crosses of Cripps Pink and Honeycrisp, planted in commercial trials in Quincy. Evans and her team still use variety numbers internally but began publicly identifying their samples with letters to protect patent and trademark odds down the road. They predate Evans, who started in 2008.

Both varieties are tart, crisp and juicy and typically generate excitement when the university passes the apples out with survey forms at trade shows and conferences. Still, their future is far from certain. “There’s no guarantee that either of them will make it,” Evans said. But if she has her way, there will be more new apples right behind them.

Article by Ross Courtney, Good Fruit Grower

Cosmic Crisp Claimed as the Most Promising "Celebrity Apple"

Exciting research from Pace International's record-breaking Postharvest Academy

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Pace International, a leader in sustainable postharvest solutions, recently hosted its half-day Postharvest Academy in Cle Elum, WA, at the Suncadia Lodge. Every spring, Pace's academy explores game-changing ideas and presents some of the latest research being conducted in the postharvest segment for the apple, pear and cherry industries, with this year’s event including two quality-related pre-harvest presentations.

"We bring in the experts whose cutting-edge research addresses our customers' most pressing packinghouse challenges, with a focus on maintaining fruit quality, freshness and safety," said Rodrigo Cifuentes, vice president of marketing and business development for Pace International.

Pace International’s lineup of speakers this year included seven industry experts presenting on a wide range of topics from market expectations, presented by Desmond O’Rourke of Belrose Inc. to managing fruit disorders with decay control, covered by James Mattheis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Richard Kim of Pace International. Food safety management was also presented, with a focus on efficacy of water sanitizers and Peroxyacetic acid in apple packing processes, presented by Meijun Zhu of WSU, and a proactive defense strategy by Trevor Suslow of University of California-Davis, who are both researchers on the food-safety project, “Assessment of Apple Packing for Listeria Risk” funded by the Center for Produce Safety, which the WTFRC is a partner in research with. A few academy highlights included the following:

  • Cosmic Crisp was claimed recently to be the most promising “celebrity apple” of the future by The New York Times and Seattle Business magazine. According to Ines Hanrahan, project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Commission, the Cosmic Crisp is a new apple variety bred by WSU. During Hanrahan's presentation, she reviewed the current status of the development of a starch scale for growers, to help determine the perfect harvest time for the Cosmic Crisp, which has slow starch degradation, a narrow fruit maturity profile on the tree, and a long harvest window. This scale, along with other fruit quality parameters, will help to ensure high-quality fruit being picked every time, and it allows packers to make corrections during harvest. She also shared the latest harvest and storage practices for the Cosmic Crisp apple variety.
  • The new application process for ecoFOG (fungicide thermofogging technology) and FYSIUM (1-MCP technology) reduces application times and provides significant benefits to packers, including better apple quality management. David Felicetti Sr. R&D and regulatory affairs manager of Pace International, presented very promising results demonstrating FYSIUM exposure times less than the current 24-hour recommendation can be just as effective. Felicetti also discussed applying ecoFOG before FYSIUM. "Traditionally, FYSIUM is applied first followed then by the ecoFOG application. However, by inverting the applications, all actives can be applied in a shorter window,” Felicetti said. The benefits of reducing application times are significant for packers and include reduced pathogen incubation time due to the earlier application of fungicides, reduced CO2 build-up in the rooms, and increased flexibility to meet packer's individual needs. These trials are still ongoing.
  • Valent shows results of new ReTain organic formulation to help manage organic apple harvests. Kevin Forney, product development manager for Valent USA LLC, spoke on the evaluation of ReTain as a maturity management tool on new apple varieties and field evaluations of a new organic formulation of AVG. With the maturity management tool, ReTain treatments resulted in highly significant reductions in fruit drop across all varieties tested, with no observable effects on the development or intensity of skin color. "ReTain, and the new organic formulation have consistently demonstrated equal performance around all varieties tested," Forney said.

Pace International’s eighth annual Postharvest Academy attracted a record-breaking attendance of over 150 industry leaders and professionals from various countries around the world, including the U.S., Canada, Chile and France.

"Our next scheduled Postharvest Academy will be in October 2018 in Chile. We hosted our first Postharvest Academy in Chile last year and had over 100 attendees. We plan to continue hosting Pace’s Academy into markets where we have a presence. Our goal is to share the latest trends, practical research and sustainable postharvest technologies with all of our customers," said Cifuentes.

Article by The Produce News