By DAN WHEAT
PULLMAN, Wash. -- The Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute and two other entities have submitted letters of intent to apply to manage the commercialization of a new apple variety being released by Washington State University.
The step was not mandatory and others may apply with management proposals by May 3, said Tom Kelly, WSU intellectual property specialist. He said three letters were received but would not identify them. Bill Howell, managing director of NNII, said the organization submitted one of the letters and that he didn't know about the others.
The NNII, an association of commercial tree fruit nurseries in Prosser, has managed some releases of WSU cherries and apricots since 1987.
"We want to see if we can assist WSU in making sure WA 38 (breeding name) has the best chance of success," Howell said.
NNII is knowledgeable in production and sales of trees but lacks variety management experience that some nurseries or large tree fruit companies have, he said.
It is difficult to see how a commercial nursery or large company will want to manage a variety for an administrative fee without some sort of exclusive rights, Howell said.
But since the WA 38 was developed with funds from research assessments on all growers, one marketer should not have rights over another, Kelly said.
"We hope a potential licensee will come up with a scenario for it to work without it smelling like a club (closed-managed variety)," he said.
WSU announced release of the WA 38 on March 11. Reasonable numbers for planting won't be available until 2015, Katherine Evans, tree fruit breeder at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, has said.
The apple is dark red, juicy, crisp and low in browning when cut, Evans said. It originated from a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp in 1997. It is a little firmer than Honeycrisp with a high sweetness and a kick of tartness, she said. It grows and stores well.
The WSU Research Foundation, owner of the WA 38, hopes to establish a trademark name by July and select a licensee that will manage the contracting of propagation to nurseries and others, sublicensing to growers, managing trademark and collecting royalties.
Growers initially will pay a royalty of $1 per tree or $1,000 per acre on trees they buy to plant and packers will pay 1 percent of FOB fruit sales. With those prices set, the licensee will be chosen based on experience and the proposal, Kelly said.
About 10 growers in the state have inquired about growing it and four overseas companies have asked about international management, he said. That will occur after the state process is finished, he said.
Ken Adams, president of Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, said marketers will drive variety development, not nurseries. It's important it is named, he said, noting another new variety, the WA 2, has not done well because naming was left up to each buyer.
About 24 licenses were granted but licensees wanted one name to prevent marketplace confusion, he said. Crimson Delight was chosen but development has been limited, he said.
A professional ad agency will be hired to help name the WA 38, he said.
"Once we do WA 38 we will look at WA 2 and see if there's any way we can salvage that situation," Kelly said.