Cosmic Crisp Plantings Beat Estimate

About 1 million more Cosmic Crisp apple trees are being planted this spring than were estimated in December. Some growers worry about oversupply.

More Cosmic Crisp apple trees are being planted this spring in Washington state than expected, heightening concerns about possible overproduction.

At the Washington State Tree Fruit Association meeting last December, Lynnell Brandt, president of Proprietary Variety Management, estimated Cosmic Crisp plantings at 5.8 million trees for the spring of 2018. The company was hired by Washington State University to help manage commercialization of the new state apple.

Now with the 2018 planting season three-fourths done, Brandt said this season’s tally will end at 6.7 million to 6.8 million Cosmic Crisp trees planted. And that accounts for losses reported by some nurseries from trees that died when their bud grafting onto rootstock failed, he said.

Willow Drive Nursery, near Ephrata, experienced about 37 percent mortality on its 2018 Cosmic Crisp and other nurseries were probably close to that, said Jim Adams, co-owner of Willow Drive.

“We don’t know what caused it. We’re trying to figure it out. Roots grew fine but didn’t transfer to the variety. Buds died,” Adams said.

Willow Drive grew 1 million Cosmic Crisp trees for 2018 but will grow 150,000 in 2019 because growers previously ordered fewer Cosmic Crisp and more of proprietary varieties for 2019, he said.

Other nurseries will make up for Willow Drive’s decline, and the best guess remains that 5.2 million more Cosmic Crisp will be planted in 2019, Brandt said.

A total of 629,000 trees were planted in 2017, the first year of commercial planting, he said.

Brandt said he expects plantings to drop to 2 million trees per year in 2020 and beyond.

He estimated just under 200,000, 40-pound boxes of Cosmic Crisp will go to grocery stores from the 2019 crop, 2 million for 2020, 6.2 million for 2021, 11.3 million for 2022, 15 million in 2023, 18 million in 2024, 20 million in 2025 and 22 million in 2026.

In comparison, Red Delicious peaked at 61.4 million boxes in 1994 and remains No. 1 at about 34 million. It’s taken Gala more than 20 years to reach 33 million and Honeycrisp 10 years to reach 12 million.

The fast ramp up of Cosmic Crisp makes a lot of growers nervous, Adams said.

“I hear from a lot of growers across the state. There’s a lot of nervousness, reservations about the sheer volume,” he said.

Brandt said oversupply will be countered by Cosmic Crisp being a better apple, replacing older strains of Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Cameo and Jonagold.

“I’m not sure everyone has a grasp on this,” Brandt said. “It will be a launch different than any other. Immediate critical mass. It opens a whole lot of avenues because of that notoriety and brand recognition and promises to the consumer that will be utilized like never before.”

The industry will work together using social media to directly reach consumers at limited costs, he said.

“Because it’s a brand it must have a marketing approach, not just a sales approach. The brand will become of paramount importance,” Brandt said.

An industry marketing committee, including five Crisp marketing entities that handle 80 percent or more of the state’s apple marketing, is making progress toward a marketing plan and has “a lot more work to be done over the next couple of years,” Brandt said.

Article by Dan Wheat, Capital Press