WENATCHEE — Attention fruit lovers: A new breed of apple is on the way.
Researchers from Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center hosted a field day May 24 and invited growers to see and try their newest apple variety at the WSU-TFREC Sunrise Research Farm in Rock Island and at a Stemilt Growers orchard in Quincy.
The apple was called “WA 64” and is a cross between Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink.
Cripps Pink was bred in Australia and named after the researcher who created it, John Cripps. Some may know the apple by its trademark name, Pink Lady.
“The WA 64 is more like its Cripps Pink parent but has better texture, inherited from its Honeycrisp parent,” said Dr. Katherine Evans, a researcher with the WSU apple breeding program.
The new apple is about 50% to 70% of a pink-red blush with a yellow background. It colors well when exposed to sunlight, is not prone to bitter pit disease or stem bowl cracking, is moderately susceptible to mildew and sunburn, and is a medium to small size, according to data shared by Evans.
The goal of the trip was to get growers interested in the WA 64 and to allow time for questions.
“We wanted to provide the opportunity for growers who might be interested, no commitments or whatever, just an opportunity to come and see how these trees behave in the growing systems that we got,” Evans said.
Between 20 and 30 people representing growers, tree sellers, and crop insurance agents were in attendance.
At the Sunrise Research Farm, there were hundreds of WA 64 trees around a year old — still unable to bear fruit.
“For a grower in the future that wants to grow WA 64, this is an opportunity to see what a young tree looks like,” Evans said.
Attendees also had the opportunity to learn about tree physiology and about the soil and different conditions that maintain the young trees.
At the Quincy site, the WSU team showed growers the oldest WA 64 trees, which were planted in 2015. There, the growers not only saw mature WA 64 trees, but tasted the new apple. The apples were harvested at the Quincy site in October and kept in cool storage.
The variety is not sensitive to bruising and can be stored in a controlled atmosphere for nine months to a year, according to data shared by Evans.
At the field trip was Jesus Cuellar from Enza Fruit Products in Wenatchee.
“I saw that WSU was having a field day on this new variety, and I like seeing and learning new things,” he said. “I was curious about this new variety and what it looks like and the tree characteristics.”
He said the fruit had both a sweet and tart flavor and a dense texture.
“I’m interested to see where it goes in the future,” Cuellar said.
He also wanted to know the harvest window of WA 64, but Evans said that’s undetermined and researchers are still collecting data.
“That’s the big one (question) that growers are focused on because it impacts them on this choice of ‘Will it fit in with my other varieties or not?’” Evans said. “We’re still really working to find the best way to clearly provide guidance.”
And that is normal for all varieties, she added. Collecting data doesn’t end when the apple goes to the market, she said. Researchers are still finding new recommendations to grow Gala apples and when to harvest them.
Also on the field trip was Craig Anderson from Gilbert Orchards in Yakima.
“I’m just seeing what the future possibilities are, what our options are, profitable options,” Anderson said.
The introduction of WA 64 comes on the heels of the Cosmic Crisp, an apple variety that was developed by Evans and the breeding program that was released to growers around 2016 and brought to the market in 2019.
Evans said the success of the Cosmic Crisp apple is “amazing.”
“It’s the fastest build-up ever of a new variety in terms of commercial build-up,” Evans said. “It’s phenomenal. I think only a state like Washington could do that.”
She said it’s too soon to determine what kind of commercial success WA 64 will have because growers have different needs from each other and data is still being collected.
The seed of WA 64 was first generated in a genetics crossing of the two parent apples in 1998.
The variety won’t be released to growers until at least 2025 and won’t be available to the public 2028 or so, according to Evans.
She said it is normal for varieties to go through a long process from seed breeding inception to commercialization because of many different reasons.
The main factor is the selection process.
Scientists had to narrow down the best WA 64 seeds from of tens of thousands to hundreds to 50 then to 15, collect data while they grew and then replicate the process again to select the best seeds to bear the best fruit.
“What we are doing all the time is reducing the numbers of different unique individuals (trees), multiply them up so we get more copies of the same thing,” Evans said. “The more trees we have, the more fruit we get, then the more testing we can do.”
She noted a minor factor is that it’s not strategically a good idea to release new varieties close together because it can be expensive for farmers.
“We’re in a position where Washington growers have just invested an awful lot of money over the past few years planting (Cosmic Crisp),” Evans said. “So you also have to take that into account when you’re looking when to release something.”