Industry hopeful for new apple

Bruce Barritt/WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center The WA 2 is the first new variety release of the WSU apple breeding program and will sold in limited fashion to growers next spring. Scientists say consumers will love its flavor, crispness and color.

New variety is crisp, juicy, has great flavor and color

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Washington apple growers and tree fruit companies are eager to plant their first samples of the state's newest apple variety next spring, says the leader of a research commission involved in the effort.

But widespread commercial planting probably won't occur for another four or five years because it takes time to gear up production, which is based on demand, said Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee.

"Like any new offering, those producing it take a risk," he said. "But there's more known about the horticultural and fruit quality aspects of this variety at introduction than any other."

The new variety's patent name is "WA 2" -- short for Washington Apple 2.

It will be very popular because it has many attributes consumers and growers are looking for, McFerson said. It's crisp, juicy, has great flavor and color and will be easy to grow in Washington, he said. Growers hope such an apple further diversifies what they grow and increases their profits.

Washington State University tree breeders are working on other potential new varieties that differ in taste and other characteristics, McFerson said.

"There's no one best big thing," he said. "We will have a series of ever better cultivars with better consumer qualities."

The commission has been working for years with the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, also in Wenatchee, to develop new varieties.

Bruce Barritt, a WSU professor emeritus and the center's retired apple breeder, zeroed in on what's become the WA 2 during 15 years of work. This fall, Washington State University granted an exclusive license for its first apple variety to the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

McFerson says the commission plans to make the WA 2 available to all Washington growers, not limit it as a club variety.

McFerson is working with the state Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Horticultural Association for legislation next year that will allow the research commission to hold the license and set up a nonprofit management entity.

He said that entity will be responsible for commercialization but not promotion and marketing, which will be left up to individual companies and growers.

Willow Drive Nursery, in Ephrata, has been producing a limited number of WA 2 for test purposes, and test trees have been planted in the last two to three years near Brewster, Quincy, Mattawa and Prosser, McFerson said. Future propagation will be open to other nurseries or companies, he said.

About 8,000 trees of WA 2 on Malling 9 rootstock will be available this spring to any commercial orchard that has paid research dues through the Washington Apple Commission, McFerson said. Orchards or companies will pay $600 for five trees and may get 15, but they must be planted in groups of five in different locations, he said.

Growers and companies will be free to name or brand the tree whatever they want, McFerson said.

One name may be better for recognition, he said

"This is still an experiment," he said. "This is not a rigid model. We don't think the paradigm of limited production with a catchy name is the preferred future for this program. It's the quality of the genetics and production, rather than promotion and marketing gimmicks that will drive consumption."

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