Apple growers and marketers in New York continue to learn more about new apple varieties from Cornell University’s breeding program. It’s been about three years since Susan Brown, who leads the program, introduced two new varieties — named, appropriately, NY 1 and NY 2 — that would be available exclusively to all apple growers in the state. Shortly after that, a group of apple growers created NYAG (New York Apple Growers) LLC and completed negotiations with Cornell to obtain the exclusive license to the two new varieties. NYAG was tasked with the goal of contracting with grower members to manage the distribution of the acreage and ultimately the packing and marketing of the fruit. NYAG also sought to sublicense packinghouses and marketers in order to offer premium returns to growers for the sale of the fruit, with revenues derived from royalties of these initial varieties to be shared with Cornell University to provide funding for breeding work to create future selections suited to the New York climate.
According to Brown, who spoke recently with American Fruit Grower, the apples are about a year away from being fully available to consumers. However, in the past couple years, everyone involved has learned a lot about the similarities and differences between the two apples, and how they should be promoted.
“We had the benefit of having these apples in grower trials before any marketing plans were developed,” says Brown. “Testing of advance selections was fast tracked, so we were able to gather a lot of information early.” For example, they knew that NY 1 was a weaker grower and growers needed to keep fruit off it early in its life. They also needed a stronger rootstock. In addition, they were able to collect data on both regular storage and controlled atmosphere storage, thanks to help from Chris Watkins, a professor in Cornell’s Department of Horticulture specializing in postharvest and storage.
Brown notes several other characteristics of each of these new varieties:
• NY 1: “It has many of the same caveats of Honeycrisp,” says Brown. “But we are pleased to report we did not see the leaf disorders that Honeycrisp gets, including bitter pit.” NY 1 is weaker but does not have the same challenges as Honeycrisp, Brown also noted. “NY 1 colors really well and maintains a really nice level of firmness and Brix. That’s been a good trait for consumers. It has the juiciness as well as red coloration. It’s not as variable as Honeycrisp can be. It’s productive. The only complaint I’ve heard is that they are hard to come off the tree, which makes sense because we didn’t want any drops.”
• NY 2: “This is for growers who like Honeycrisp, but like a more acidic flavor,” says Brown. “If you like Honeycrisp you’ll like NY 1. NY 2 is more like a Cortland or Macintosh, with a sugar acid balance but more of an acid note. It’s a grower friendly apple, and a great tree. The fruit hangs well and has good color. It has much more flexibility with harvesting. Different harvest dates didn’t impact quality as much, which gives growers wider latitude.” Brown also says the apple is very firm, crisp, and juicy, with a good shelf life. “Consumers who like sweet apples have liked NY 1, and tart apple lovers are vice versa.”
This year, after the frost, NY 1 came through better than NY 2, but both produced a crop. “We also didn’t see as much surface defects, malformed fruit, and russetting,” says Brown.
More research continues to take place at the university level. “Cornell’s Terence Robinson has a grad student doing studies on orchard management, and he has these varieties in his trials, so we’ll get some good information,” says Brown. “We are getting comments back from growers that have tried it this year, and it’s paid off.”
Good Model To Follow
About 140 growers have signed up to participate in growing NY 1 and NY 2 on about 900 acres, according to both Brown and Roger Lamont with NYAG LLC. This number represents just about all the major growers in the state, and a good number of roadside stand growers. It is with these smaller growers where participation is key, says Brown, as those growers that have good face-to-face contact with consumers will be the first to gage consumer reaction. She also points out that all New York growers were eligible to sign up.
When it comes time to market these apples to consumers, Brown says that SweeTango gives an excellent example to follow. “They used social media to build enthusiasm and set a high bar in terms of how a variety can be introduced,” says Brown. “We have used local resources, and worked with one of the marketing classes at Cornell to see what a student perspective on varieties and marketing was.”
Lamont says NYAG is working with a marketing consultant group with Cornell to generate discussions on how to describe the varieties. They are currently developing marketing plans. “We want to do it the right away.”
More Open Releases?
Susan Brown, apple breeder at Cornell University, emphasizes that even though these varieties are restricted to New York, if they are a success, NYAG may look to expand production. She also says that in the near future, Cornell will hopefully release varieties that everyone will have access to. “That’s important because growers in states without a breeding program may feel that there are no options for them, but there will be,” says Brown. “I think we will see more open releases, and many of them will have a big following throughout the country.” As for NYAG, they will have a seat at the table, although it will be important to be open to other marketing programs.