Good Fruit Grower

February 1

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Horticulture PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA Don't kill THE GOLDEN GOOSE New red strains might disguise improper maturity. by Geraldine Warner avid Bedford, apple breeder at the University of Minnesota, where the Honeycrisp apple originated, traveled to Washington State last month to beg growers not to kill the golden goose. Honeycrisp, which is naturally adapted to Minnesota's cold climate, was not originally thought to be suited to Washington's hotter sites, but extremely high returns on the variety have motivated growers throughout the country to plant it and use practices to mitigate their microclimate, where necessary. Washington produced about 4.6 million boxes of Honeycrisp this season, and the variety continues to be heavily planted. In December, Washington Honeycrisp apples were selling at $54 a box f.o.b., compared with $24 for Fuji and Gala. While prices of all other apple varieties have dropped this season, Honeycrisp prices are holding up. Honeycrisp has earned a reputation as one of the trickiest apples to grow because —David Bedford of its susceptibility to a whole host of diseases and disorders. As Bedford pointed out during a Washington State University Honeycrisp Fruit School in December, it didn't come with an owner's manual. It's a sensitive variety that's not always comfortable with different environments, he said. "Honeycrisp doesn't adapt to environmental conditions as well as many varieties you grow," he said. "I've always felt that coloration of the fruit is some indicator of its discomfort. I look at that almost like a smoke alarm. If it's in a site it's not comfortable in, and especially if it's too warm, poor color is a fact of life." D "We get so hung up on the appearance, and we forget to look inside. Just because it's red doesn't mean it's edible." David Bedford, left, apple breeder at the University of Minnesota, and Jim Luby, right, display a box of Honeycrisp apples. Several new, highly colored strains of Honeycrisp are being commercialized, including Royal Red, Firestorm, and Cameron Select (see "Honeycrisp strains"). Bedford said he's concerned that these easy-to-color strains will enable growers to produce a red Honeycrisp on sites where it doesn't belong. Judging fruit maturity is more difficult with Honeycrisp than with other varieties, and a change in background color is one of the most reliable indicators of when to pick for optimum eating quality. Bedford fears that if the apple is full red, pickers won't know when to pick them, and fruit that is not properly matured will get into the marketplace. "We get so hung up on the appearance, and we forget to look inside," he said. "This is a real concern. You're going to be able to grow it and get good color, but it's not going to taste good. Just because it's red doesn't mean it's edible with Honeycrisp. Picking too early really reduces the quality of the apple." Honeycrisp has been a success with the public not because of its color or appearance, but because of its eating quality, he stressed. "I'm convinced that the only way prices are going to hold, or that you're going to be able to sell this as a premium apple, is if you deliver eating quality," he added. "You can only fool the public so long. If people aren't getting what they expected, you're going to lose market share." Day and night Scott Marboe, marketing director of Oneonta Trading Corporation in Wenatchee, Washington, told attendees at the Fruit School how his family had bought Honeycrisp apples in Florida. Some were grown in Washington and some were from the Midwest. They were all the same price, but the color and eating quality were night and day. The Washington apples were green and tasted bland. "They were two totally different apples," Marboe said. "That's the kind of thing, as an industry, we really have to avoid. Honeycrisp is in huge demand, but if we're not putting on the shelf what the consumer's going to buy day in, day out, we're going to hurt ourselves. It was a big wake-up call." HONEYCRISP strains t least three red strains of Honeycrisp are available commercially, and nurseries are evaluating several more. The original Honeycrisp developed by the University of Minnesota was patented in 1988, when it was described as a having 50 to 90 percent mottled red color over a yellow background, according to Gary Snyder, vice president of research and development at C & O Nursery in Wenatchee, Washington. The patent has expired. Speaking at a Honeycrisp Fruit School presented by Washington State University, Snyder said he doesn't recall seeing much red color on an original Honeycrisp, though it does vary depending on how and where it is grown. Higher-coloring strains currently available include Royal Red, Firestorm, and Cameron Select. Royal Red Honeycrisp (cultivar LJ 1000) originated in the Larry Jones orchard at Quincy, Washington, from a grafted tree that had fruit that colored earlier and more intensely than others. It was patented in 2011. Willow Drive Nursery, Ephrata, Washington, owns the trademark. Snyder said there's a two-year backlog of orders for this strain. Firestorm (cultivar BAB 2000), which is being managed by Tye Fleming at Helios Nursery in Orondo, Washington, also came from a grafted tree. A patent has been applied for, and the trademark is registered. This blush strain has higher color than the original Honeycrisp. Cameron Select has a registered trademark but is not patented. Snyder said that Cameron Nursery in Eltopia selects the best-coloring budwood for its trees and will continue to try to improve color through its budwood selection process. In addition, a number of other strains from various sources are under test, Snyder said. These include striped, blush, early maturing, and late-maturing strains. —G. Warner A 12 FEBRUARY 1, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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