After more than two decades of development in collaboration with the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Washington producers plan to bring a new apple brand to market known as WA38, or the “Cosmic Crisp.” The apple, bred specifically with Washington’s climate in mind, stores better than other apples and maintains the qualities of other popular apple brands.
Washington – by far the top state in the U.S. for apple production – composes an estimated 65 percent of all apples grown on approximately 168,000 acres. Roughly a third of those apples are exported to foreign markets including Canada and Mexico. The makeup of the apples grown has changed since the 1990s when Red Delicious was the highest-selling brand. Among the apples grown in Washington state is Honeycrisp, first introduced in 1991, but it was created with Minnesota’s climate in mind.
Development of the Cosmic Crisp started in 1997, cross-pollenating Honeycrisp with Enterprise. Katherine Evans, associate professor at the WSU’s Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center, was heavily involved in the creation of Cosmic Crisp. She told Lens that “Washington is a pretty amazing place to grow apples, and the industry does a great job of growing the apples out here, but none…have been bred or selected for the unique growing environment we have in Washington.”
As a result, Washington apple producers often must use equipment such as shadecloth and cooling systems to keep brands like Honeycrisp alive, according to Washington Tree Fruit Association Communications Manager Tim Kovis. He added that Honeycrisp apples “also just don’t store well to be marketed year-round.”
One of the reasons for the extended development period is how new apples are bred, Evans said. After collecting 10,000-20,000 seeds each year, breeders would then evaluate the seed quality, keeping only the best. The rest were discarded. The next round of selections would occur the following year.
The result is an apple with firm texture, strong sweet and tart flavor, is slow to brown and can be kept in storage for more than a year without losing texture or flavor.
“It took 20 years to get where we are with WA38,” Evans said. “We were doing more and more evaluation on fewer individual (seeds) until we could be confident that that one particular individual was good enough to become a variety. Something that is manufactured like a whiskey…you can tweak it, you can blend it. With a new apple you make that cross. Once you’ve got your seeds, there’s no tweaking involved. It is what it is.”
After growing the trees for three years, Washington farmers involved are expected to produce two million boxes of Cosmic Crisp, according to Kovis. He added that there are plans to expand production next year. One reason Evans anticipates the new brand will take off is because unlike other apples, Cosmic Crisp is more available to small growers than others due to its licensing terms.
Another advantage is it offers a harvest period that is the same as other brands such as Red Delicious, Evans said. “Growers usually try and manage a portfolio of varieties that will let their labor crew work all the way through the harvest period. In terms of replacing some of their acreage they can put in some WA38 (Cosmic Crisp) and maintain that continuity of their labor.”
Consumers may wonder about the pricetag for the new apple, and Evans says an inexpensive product is unlikely, in part due to marketing costs.
“I suspect growers will be attracted to having new varieties because they are wanting to be able to have a premium product that a consumer is willing to pay a reasonable amount for,” she added.