What Cosmic Slices Reveal

New WSU-bred apple showing different starch clearing patterns than traditional varieties.

Researchers are working to develop a starch scale for the new Washington State University-bred apple variety WA 38, to be marketed and sold under the brand name Cosmic Crisp.

The first commercial trees were planted last spring and the variety is still at least a couple of years from production, but researchers as the Washington State Tree Fruit Commission, in collaboration with a focus group of growers and scientists, have some early assessments following on year of study. They plan to continue the research in 2018.

"We want to look at every angle to give people as detailed information as possible so they can be prepared, especially since we are expecting the volume of fruit to ramp up fast," WTFRC project manager Ines Hanraham said. "We also want this information to be user friendly so people can easily make the correct decision when growing, harvesting and marketing this variety."

More than 11 million trees are expected to be planted in the first three years, which will translate to a lot of fruit hitting the market at once. A grading subcommittee of the industry's marketing advisory group for the apple's retail rollout is establishing grading standards to enable the industry to be more flexible and meet changing needs of the market.

Grading standards will be the key to ensuring consumers receive a high-quality piece of fruit each time. However, so will horticultural practices, and starch scales are one method to gauge the maturity of a piece of fruit.

Immature areas of a piece of fruit will turn a blue-black color when dipped in an iodine solution, indicating high starch levels, while parts of the apple where the starch has converted into sugars will be clear. Starch scales vary be region and by variety. Cornell University provides Eastern U.S. growers with a scale range of one to eight, to point put different maturity levels; European growers use a scale that recognizes 10 maturity levels. Washington growers traditionally recognize just six, and researchers are continuing that traditions with the WA 38.

The Study

Researchers samples fruit from the end of September through November, eventually sampling 638 apples from four research orchards. They cut apples in half through the equator (the core for WA 38 is located farther down the apples than most varieties, and the cut to determine starch levels should be made through the core). Then they dipped the slices in an iodine solution and waiting up to 30 minutes to determine starch levels for fruit at room temperature; for cold fruit, starch patterns sometimes took up to an hour to fully develop. They then photographed the results to begin to develop a scale.

Typically, starch clears out of an apple's core area first, followed by degrees of clearing on the apple cortex, but WA 38 did not show that natural tendency, said Felix Schuhmann, a WTFRC research assistant. In addition, it became clear that darkening of apple flesh after reapplication of the iodine solution to visualize remaining starch takes longer than the other varieties.

Hanrahan noted that it's a point growers should be aware of, especially if they intend to preform starch readings in the field. Some varieties show fully developed starch patterns within a minute, while WA 38 will require at least 5 minutes, and up to half an hour if the fruit is cold (like on a cool fall morning).

So far, they've seen such slow disappearance of starch levels that they've developed a pilot half-scale (1.5, 2, 2.5). In addition, they've seen two patterns for how starches appear in fruit form the same tree: a flower pattern, which is most dominate and found in about 60 percent of the fruit, and a radial pattern that sprays outward like the sun's rays.

In the year ahead, the researchers are focusing on three key areas to tweak the scale:

  1. The researchers struggled to find stage five fruit picked straight from the tree, which means starches are moving very slowly out of the apple before harvest. That's good news in terms of long-term storability of WA 38, but they intend to let some fruit hang longer to determine just how long the period is to reach stage five or six on the tree. "We didn't let fruit hang on the tree long enough to determine when the fruit reaches that stage naturally," Schuhmann said. "We have to assess how long that actually takes during the season." On average, research on WA 38 has shown growers will have a two-week harvest window for controlled atmosphere storage-quality fruit.
  2. Instead of just conducting horizontal cuts, the researches also intend to perform vertical cuts to show starch clearance differences between the core area and the calyx and them bowl area, which might be helpful to determine if fruit is prone to splitting, Hanrahan said.
  3. Schuhmann said the researchers also aim to compare starch clearance rates to the rates of other common apple varieties.

The research is being funded by the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower

Growers to Continue Aggressive Apple Plantings This Year


Growers of apples and pears have had the most ambitious production plans in the past few years. In 2018, the beat goes on.

In fact, pome fruit growers are the only ones in which a plurality, a solid 48%, say they are planning on increasing production in 2018. Nearly as many, 45%, say they expect production to stay the same this year.

What’s remarkable is this is the second consecutive year a plurality of pome fruit growers say they are increasing production in the coming year. Growers in no other crop category can make that claim.

Why? Contrary to what some may think, it’s not what’s being planted. Far more important is the way they are being planted — ultra high-density trellised systems. Not many years ago a high-density orchard had 200 trees per acre, while modern orchards can approach 10 times that many.

While the new varieties rightly garner a lot of attention, growers in the survey indicated they still favor traditional varieties.

Grower Responses

Growers by and large need convincing, and many are taking a wait wait-and and-see approach to the new varieties, whether the popular Midwest Apple Improvement Association varieties, or Washington’s 800-pound gorilla, ‘Cosmic Crisp.’ One Midwestern grower’s response was typical when asked about the new varieties: “Time will tell.” Or yet another Midwesterner, this one with a century-old farm: “Wait and see what sticks!”

Another grower with a Midwestern century farm elucidated concern: “Some are OK, some are not. I think we may be getting too many too fast. Stores will carry only so many varieties at one time. We may be conditioning people to something new every year. Not good for growers.”

But varieties don’t have to stay new for long. A Pacific Northwest grower, who currently farms ‘Fuji,’ ‘Gala,’ and ‘Honeycrisp,’ but who has now planted ‘Cosmic Crisp’: “‘Cosmic Crisp’ will be a traditional variety by volume within three years.”
Lamented another PNW grower, obviously envious: Can’t get the ones I want (‘Cosmic Crisp,’ ‘Piqa Boo’ pear), because we’re Oregon growers.”

One Midwest grower had a similar thought: “It’s going to be hard to keep up, as these branded apples are like shooting stars, popular until the next one comes along. We are not large enough to opt in to that marketing scheme.” However, the grower added on the bright side: “Pear requests have increased over the past half-decade for us. We can no longer keep up with the demand.”

Another common take on new varieties came from a Northeast grower: “They are a part of the business but we are not betting the farm on them.”

Another Northeast grower who has a century farm had an interesting take: “They are all great, (but) I do think that we have narrowed the definition of an apple by focusing so strongly on the harder textures and sweet/tart taste. I think that apples can be enjoyed in so many ways.”

One Midwestern grower cautioned it may be too many, too soon: “Store shelves don’t have space for all of them. Some will fail. However, new varieties that taste great and are marketed properly will be successful.”

Sameness is indeed a concern, said this Northwest grower: “There’s a confusing array of varieties that are mostly bi-colored and similar in eating experience. Difficult to pick a winner.”

Agreed another grower, this one in the Midwest, agreed: “There are a lot of them. We have chosen one or two we think are promising and are planting them on a large scale. We think the market will eventually weed some of the weaker ones out (hopefully not the ones we’ve chosen!).”

Finally, keep in mind, these are apples, not widgets, said one Northeast grower. “(There are) too many new varieties. Most are not good but are marketed as being the best new thing,” he said. “Too many mediocre growers producing them as well, so there are mediocre new varieties of mediocre quality flooding the market.”

Article by David Eddy, Growing Produce

Learning Cosmic Lessons

Researchers offer the latest horticultural, packing tips for new Washington State University apple variety.

 Photo by TJ Mullinax,  Good Fruit Grower .

Photo by TJ Mullinax, Good Fruit Grower.

The new Washington State University apple variety WA 38, to be sold under the trade name Cosmic Crisp, is easy to store and suffers very few storage maladies if growers pay attention to best practices in the field.

That’s the finding from researchers who are reviewing the variety and offering tips to growers who planted it for the first time earlier this year.

“That’s a big difference from other varieties, not having to worry about 40 percent losses in storage due to some disease or another,” said Ines Hanrahan, project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (WTFRC). “You still have to manage the growing of the fruit and the harvest, but once you have a good product in the bin, there’s less worry having something wrong once it’s in storage.”

A cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp bred at WSU, the apple was released only after years of orchard trials.

Washington growers began planting the first trees in the spring, and roughly 11 million trees are expected to be in the ground in just three short years.

Knowing what the variety needs in the orchard and packing house is crucial to success.

Researchers for the WTFRC and WSU have been evaluating fruit from the trees to better understand and recommend best horticultural and packing practices for Cosmic Crisp.

They presented examples of the fruit — perfect-looking Cosmic Crisp apples and apples shaped less than ideally, as well as fruit with various blemishes — during a field day in September.

Here are a few of their recommendations:

 Photo by Shannon Dininny,  Good Fruit Grower.

Photo by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower.

—Typically, growers will have a two-week window to harvest fruit that is suitable for long-term storage. Most varieties offer only a five-day window. “It gives you some time, some play, during harvest, if for example you don’t have enough pickers,” Hanrahan said.

—The variety is a lot less prone to sunburn than many other varieties, but can still get sunburn in afternoon sunlight without overhead cooling. Also, overhead cooling doesn’t appear to impede the fruit from coloring.

“However, if you have a block that is overly vigorous and has no overhead cooling, you can have color problems just like other varieties,” she said. Usually, color sets three to four weeks before harvest.

—Growers need to monitor starch levels and watch for splits, which mainly affect overripe fruit. Typically, only 2 percent of fruit will split, but if growers wait too long and the starch level goes to four (on a one-to-six scale), splits can go up to 20 percent.

“Start looking for splits at starch level two, then just keep watching to know if your orchard is susceptible,” she said. Researchers are working to come up with a starch scale for the variety by the end of the year.

 Photo by Shannon Dininny,  Good Fruit Grower.

Photo by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower.

—Firmness ranges between 18 and 21 pounds in normal years. This year, researchers have harvested fruit at 17 pounds. However, the fruit loses very little firmness in storage.

—A few other notes: The variety suffers from no internal browning or scald. There is some green spot and cracking, but researchers don’t think the latter is a concern unless growers miss their harvest window and harvest too late, Hanrahan said.

Researchers have begun a couple of new projects to continue evaluating the variety. They are working to develop recommendations on either preharvest fungicide applications or applications as soon as the fruit is picked and placed into storage.

The variety has a lot of sugar and there are some stem punctures, so to avoid losses in storage, they are recommending fungicide applications.

They also are trying to use dynamic controlled atmosphere storage (DCA) to see if the fruit can be stored under organic storage regimens and determining when stem punctures might occur — during picking, placing of fruit in the bin or running fruit over the packing line. Researchers are conducting a full test this year to help to advise growers on whether to stem clip.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower

Protecting Intellectual Property

Managers of new Washington State University-bred apple variety use high-tech software to protect intellectual property rights.

PVM isn’t requiring anyone to bar code Cosmic Crisp trees either, but there is a unique code assigned to each grower contract.

The company already uses a computer software program, called Hertha and developed more than a decade ago, to evaluate new varieties that are not yet commercialized.

The program tracks everyone involved in that variety globally, such as breeders and managers, trademarks and patents, and includes the latest evaluations of the trees and resulting fruit.

PVM has since launched a new program called Idyia, to track the sale of trees and production from trees around the world and royalties once a variety has been commercialized.

Nurseries, growers, packers and marketers involved with Cosmic Crisp will have access to parts of the system that apply to them, as well as to industrywide reports on production.

“The goal is to make PVM as beneficial to the industry as possible by giving them as much information as possible, without compromising anyone’s confidential information,” Brandt said.

In May, René Nicolaï fruit tree nursery in Sint-Truiden, Belgium, planted the first Cosmic Crisp trees internationally as stock trees that will be used for eventual planting in Tyrol, Italy, by two fruit companies there that have been licensed to grow and sell WA 38.

Breeders have six years from the first commercial sale offering of a new variety to apply for plant breeder’s rights under international trees.

In the case of Cosmic Crisp, that clock started in June 2014, when the university held a drawing among Washington growers to decide who would get the first limited wood for 2017 plantings. The first trees were planted earlier this year.

Florent Geerdens, the René Nicolaï owner whose nursery is also an AIGN member, said the system allows for a unique “double control” to keep everyone honest.

“All the people involved in the concept must be trustful partners. We are our own police,” he said. “If my colleague is producing Cosmic without a license, I have to say you can’t do it. And if the partners we’re working with are not trustful, the system doesn’t work.”

The new technologies, both in cultivar development and in streamlining and sharing information across stakeholders, make for an exciting time in the tree fruit industry, Brandt said.

“The changes and the acceptance of IP by the industry as a whole, and new abilities through social media, computers, all of those things are coming together to make a unique opportunity and a unique environment for this to really explode,” he said.

Article by Shannon Dininny, Good Fruit Grower