PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University is delaying sales of trees of its new WA 38 apple variety one year and will use a lottery to give growers an equal chance of getting them.
Last spring, WSU officials hoped to have program details worked out by July so budding of new trees could begin in August. It takes two years of growth for them to be ready for planting.
But WSU has yet to choose a commercial name for the variety and reach and agreement with an entity to manage commercialization. A letter of intent for an agreement will probably be signed by the end of the year or before, said James Moyer, director of WSU’s Agricultural Research Center. A company and focus groups are working on a name, he said.
It is unlikely either decision will occur in time to be announced at the Washington State Horticultural Association annual meeting, Dec. 2-4, Moyer said. It’s more important to get things right than make an artificial deadline, he said.
The Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute in Prosser is one of three organizations that applied last spring to become the commercial manager. The Institute’s managing director, Bill Howell, said the institute is in discussions with WSU for an agreement but only “on the tree side,” not all of the commercialization.
About a half-dozen nurseries, Institute members, are propagating the WA 38 and will set their prices on which a WSU royalty will be added, Moyer said.
Nurseries have received enough interest from growers to sell at least 50,000 trees and 300,000 to 400,000 ready by 2017 probably won’t be enough, Moyer said.
WSU will issue a call for lottery applications in March and conduct the lottery in May or June, he said. One category will be for growers wanting 15,000 to 20,000, which is enough for 10 acres, and the other category will be for 4,000 to 5,000 trees, he said.
The lottery should be held sooner, Howell said.
The two categories helps but still “the difficulty will be if winners match people who want a lot of trees. Nothing can be committed by the nurseries until we know who the winners are and by June the restricting thing may be the availability of rootstock,” he said.
The WA 38 was bred from Enterprise and Honeycrisp in 1997 by Bruce Barritt, now retired but who then was then apple breeder at WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. His successor, Katherine Evans, has said the WA 38 has many good attributes, including taste, texture and beauty that “has no equal in today’s marketplace.”
The WA 38 has many attributes of the Honeycrisp that consumers like with fewer horticultural challenges, some have said.