Midwest Apple Improvement Association Breeds Fruit for the Modern Consumer
When the folks with the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA) discovered their first release, ‘EverCrisp,’ in 2008, they knew they were on to something good. The grassroots organization continued its successful roll earlier this year, releasing two varieties, ‘Bakers Delight’ and ‘Crunch-A-Bunch,’ designed for backyard growers.
Now the group is poised to release four new varieties trademarked as ‘Rosalee,’ ‘Summerset,’ ‘Sweet Zinger,’ and ‘Ludacrisp.’ (Yes, you read that last name correctly.)
But that’s not the end of MAIA’s breeding efforts. In fact, the organization expects to look for more elite selections to release in the future, with an eye toward a seasonal portfolio of offerings.
“One of our goals for our breeding program is to have a full season of varieties,” MAIA president Bill Dodd says. “‘Summerset’ is early, ‘Rosalee’ is midseason, ‘Ludacrisp’ is about a week ahead of ‘EverCrisp,’ and then ‘EverCrisp’ is the anchor at the end.”
And the group is using these releases as parents for new crosses. MAIA chairman David Doud says this will open up endless opportunities for the next generation of apple breeding, with fewer production issues and more of the traits that consumers are looking for.
Dodd says that’s the reason MAIA moved forward with ‘Rosalee,’ ‘Summerset,’ ‘Sweet Zinger,’ and ‘Ludacrisp.’
“We believe that [these new releases] all have 21st Century texture and flavor,” he says. “We believe they are all better than most varieties in their harvest window. We’re excited to see where they go.”
A Memorable Variety
Before MAIA could release its next varieties, they needed names, of course. So, the organization put an open call to its members to submit names for apples to be releases.
Dodd says more than 400 names were submitted. From there, the board voted to narrow down the list to about 12 names and then matched favored names with the MAIA varieties they were moving forward with.
The name ‘Ludacrisp’ stood out, Dodd says.
“That was the one that got the most votes and it elicited reactions from everybody. Nobody was ho-hum,” he says. “There were several people who thought it was the worst idea in the history of the planet. There were several people who thought it was the coolest thing ever invented.”
Of course, there were discussions about the name’s similarities to Ludacris, the Atlanta-based rapper and actor of the “Fast and the Furious” movie series. But what was interesting to the group was how the name ‘Ludacrisp’ related to the definition of ludicrous, which Dodd says is “funny, absurd, nonsensical, playful, or joking.”
“You want something that is memorable,” Dodd says.
Which is why the organization settled on trademarking the release ‘MAIA-L’ as ‘Ludacrisp.’ ‘MAIA-L’ is an open-pollinated ‘Honeycrisp’ that will ripen a week before ‘EverCrisp,’ approximately Oct. 5-15. The group felt the name suits the large, scarlet apple — which Doud says MAIA members had nicknamed ‘Juicy Fruit’ during its elite selection trials — due to its sweet-tart flavor. “It tastes like Juicy Fruit gum,” Doud says. “It has this tropical flavor profile that is very distinct. It has very good texture and it is nice and crispy. It is an attractive apple.”
Another variety with high marks for flavor is ‘MAIA-Z,’ which will be trademarked as ‘Sweet Zinger.’ Doud says this release — a ‘GoldRush’ and ‘Sweet Sixteen’ cross — has fared well in consumer tests. It is a red, yellow, or even burnt-orange color. Doud says it’s an attractive apple with a distinctive appearance.
“It’s an exciting apple that scores very well and it’s a little something for the people that like some acid, some tartness in their apples,” he says.
Doud says it has an ethylene-resistant profile, but a shorter harvest window. He says while the apple is not highly perishable, growers may need to treat the apple to extend the sale window.
“When compared to ‘EverCrisp,’ the window of storage and marketing is shorter,” he says. “If somebody wants to be selling that in January, they’re looking at 1-MCP, or CA storage and 1-MCP.”
Growers will need to manage crop load with these new varieties to get the full benefit of their unique qualities.
“‘Ludacrisp’ and ‘Sweet Zinger’ have clean, interesting flavor profiles that people like and people connect with,” says Diane Miller, MAIA apple geneticist and Associate Professor at The Ohio State University. “If they’re over-cropped, those cannot have those interesting flavor profiles. [Growers need to] do the cultural practices so that the variety can shine.”
Siblings to ‘EverCrisp’
The other two new releases, ‘MAIA-11’ and ‘MAIA-12,’ are similar to ‘EverCrisp’ in that they are both ‘Fuji’ and ‘Honeycrisp’ crosses. ‘MAIA-11’ is trademarked ‘Rosalee’ and ‘MAIA-12’ is trademarked as ‘Summerset.’
‘Summerset’ ripens at the same time as ‘Honeycrisp’ but has more of a pink color than a bright red. Doud says the apple has a crispy texture and a flavor that is different from ‘Honeycrisp.’ But most notably, he says, it can compete with a ‘Honeycrisp’ in consumer taste tests and lessen the number of ‘Honeycrisp’ trees he needs plant and maintain.
“In taste tests, more often than not it is preferred over ‘Honeycrisp.’ I can offer people this apple right with ‘Honeycrisp’ and 50% of people are perfectly happy with this apple, and I don’t have to produce ‘Honeycrisp,’” he says. “Anybody that grows ‘Honeycrisp’ knows the struggles of low packouts for various reasons. This apple will pack out well. Its culture is pretty straightforward.”
It has also shown minimal disease in test blocks; however, MAIA does not promote the variety as disease-resistant.
The one note of caution, Doud says, is the same with ‘Honeycrisp.’ Southern growers may find ‘Summerset’ ripening in mid-August, which may be too warm to entice consumers to buy or pick apples, or visit an orchard.
However, there are a few Southern MAIA members who tested ‘Summerset’ as an elite selection and said they would prefer to grow ‘Summerset’ to “Honeycrisp.’
‘Rosalee,’ a bi-color sister to ‘Summerset,’ could perhaps fit into a more ideal harvest window for growers concerned about early harvests.
“I have really been encouraging Southern growers to look at ‘Rosalee’ as a ‘Honeycrisp’-type apple for their operations,” Doud says.
The harvest window for ‘Rosalee’ is around the same time as a ‘Red Delicious.’ The added bonus to ‘Rosalee’ is its ‘Honeycrisp’ type of texture. This apple is known for its crispness and sweet to sweet-tart flavor with floral undertones.
MAIA notes ‘Rosalee’ is a medium vigor tree with some biennial tendencies. It has some fire blight sensitivity. Young trees may also show some tendency for skin cracking and some susceptibility to summer and storage rots
due to the cracking.
“With ‘Rosalee’ and ‘Summerset,’ crop load is important,” Miller says. “Their really shining parts are their crispness and they have fairly simple and very pleasing flavors. They have that crispness that everybody wants in an apple and they keep it.”
For those interested in ‘Rosalee,’ ‘Summerset,’ ‘Sweet Zinger,’ and ‘Ludacrisp,’ they are available through MAIA’s open release model.
Doud encourages interested growers to contact the organization if they have specific needs within a season to see if there is an elite selection with those next-generation qualities that might be a fit.
Miller says MAIA is “looking for the best [selections] of every season to have something that wouldn’t be available in grocery stores.”
She is a part of breeding and screening qualities for hard cider as well. She says the research is in the developmental stages, but there is keen interest within the membership. They will be screening for tannins and Brix to see if some of the MAIA crosses fit into the bittersharps, bittersweets, sweet, and bitter apples to create blends, although many of the flavorful MAIA apples may not fit precisely in the traditional hard cider variety labels.
“We’re looking at stretching those labels that some of these really flavorful MAIA selections have as they don’t exactly fall into those categories, but a lot of the MAIA apples really have complexity,” she says. “We’re wondering if maybe we can do a hard cider or MAIA selection for hard cider that makes an interesting hard cider that’s local.”
MAIA members continue to breed for texture and flavor. The grassroots group is excited to see where they’ve come from and where these next-generation apples will take the organization.
“We’re all reinvigorated because nobody ever imagined we’d come up with anything,” says Dodd. “Now that we have something and it’s become a success, it’s energized everyone to continue making crosses and continue the work because we know that we can do it.”
And Doud says the entire MAIA membership — especially those 50 or so growers who were a part of the early breeding program — are proud of how far they’ve come.
“There’s nothing more fun than selling something that people want. This is allowing me to do that,” he says. “It allows anyone to do this. We can generate excitement, excitement in our product.”
Miller says the whole process of breeding, though, comes back to the growers who help decide which crosses to make and which apples to determine are elite selections.
“They’re so directly tied to the consumers. When their customers really respond to a new MAIA selection, that gets everybody excited,” Miller says. “That’s the fun, presenting them in some sort of tasting event and getting people to respond.”