Opinion: Good Taste Is Grower-Friendly

David Eddy

“Grower-friendly” is a term I haven’t heard as much in recent years. Growers might not like it, but that’s a good thing. If you’re planting trees or vines because they are easy to grow, you’re making a huge mistake.

What you want are trees or vines that are consumer-friendly. They produce fruits and nuts consumers want to buy. Seems obvious, but as one deep-thinking grower I interviewed not long ago told me, a thing is only obvious after it becomes obvious.

Such is the case with good-tasting fruit. I can recall attending the annual Washington State Horticultural Association conference for the first time back in the late 1990s, and picking up a huge, beautiful Red Delicious apple from a box just outside the doors to the hall where the keynote lecture was to be given. The apple not only didn’t taste that good, it was mealy. I thought that was odd in such a place and time, but I soon got an education inside from the lecturer, Bruce Barritt.

Barritt, who started Washington State University’s (WSU) apple breeding program, implored those in attendance to grow good-tasting apple varieties that consumers wanted. That seemed pretty obvious, but I’ll never forget the grumbles from the growers, one of whom no doubt produced the apple I’d just tossed into a trash can. Barritt said he was tired of the state’s growers telling him that they produced the best Red Delicious on earth. If consumers didn’t want to eat them, what was the point of growing them?

It’s About Taste

Flash forward to a completely different scene earlier this summer at Dave Wilson Nursery. It was my first formal fruit tasting, and it was an eye-opening experience. I’d been to several fruit tastings before, but this was my first in which we actually put pen to paper and graded each of the fruits on a number of categories. Virtually the only talk was of the fruits’ taste. Sure, there were a few comments about texture or appearance, especially when it was particularly remarkable. But talk of taste dominated, which is only natural.

If you listen to consumers talk about food, they talk about taste. When it comes to apples, they certainly don’t talk about typiness. Most have never heard the word, which shows just how far off base those Red Delicious evaluations were getting.

The people in Extension and at the nurseries deserve a lot of the credit for that, I think. Like at the Dave Wilson event, there was some great-tasting fruit from the WSU breeding program at last December’s Hort Show. As I say, I just don’t recall taste being a big factor just a dozen or so years ago when variety selection was
discussed. It was all about the precocity of the tree, its resistance to disease, or other grower-friendly attributes. But while nice to have, they’re not nearly as grower-friendly as good-tasting fruit.

Grower-friendly growth habits are great if you’re a gardener. But if you’re a professional fruit grower, “grower-friendly” means good taste for the consumer — and more cash for you.

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