A grassroots apple-breeding program has released its first apple variety, EverCrisp. The variety was bred by the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA), a group of more than 140 apple growers who are interested in developing new varieties for the Midwest.
Diane Miller is an apple geneticist and researcher at Ohio State University. She is also the special advisor for the MAIA. In 2008, Miller and her team received an NCR-SARE Research and Education grant for $121,000 to determine if consumers would choose apples based upon labeling by fruit characteristics, production method, and/or growing area, with or without variety name. Among apple varieties, they evaluated size, firmness, storability, flavor, and maturity.
“The rationale for the project was that consumer demand must pull apples through the marketing streams based upon quality,” explained Miller. “This inverts the current system which attempts to push apples through the markets based upon the ability of growers to produce them.”
During the 4-year project, almost 40 apple selections and varieties were evaluated at multiple events. The main evaluation event took place at Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show in November 2010. All together, the project team recorded more than 4,000 consumer reactions throughout the project.
Miller says the decision to release MAIA’s EverCrisp variety can partially be attributed to the consumer taste panels they conducted through their SARE grant. According to Miller, EverCrisp generally rated higher than Fuji and Cameo, and was equivalent to Honeycrisp and SweeTango.
In addition to consumer taste panels, growers evaluated selections for tree and fruit characteristics at orchards throughout the Midwest, both as original seedlings and as grafted second test selections. More than 600 apple growers participated in apple tastings and informational sessions.
“Working to give growers high quality apple varieties that consumers would seek while giving the grower the desired option of reduced pesticide application was a no-brainer, BUT it takes a lot of years to develop new varieties and lots of work,” said Miller. “And the impact of high quality apples was equally important − if a variety is disease-resistant but doesn’t have outstanding texture and flavor, it’s going to have a small following.”
Miller said she noticed a positive attitude among growers when confronted with the idea of creating their own future by working with other growers to develop and test new varieties. She reported MAIA membership has increased by 85 new members (144 total) since the release of EverCrisp.
“This SARE project provided a tangible stimulus that has empowered apple growers to determine their own future by developing environmentally adapted, high quality varieties for whatever marketing scheme they prefer,” said Miller. “Additionally, sales of 250,000 trees of a new high quality variety to growers in the Midwest (and beyond) can partially be attributed to tastings and information presented as a result of this SARE project.”
MAIA desrcribes EverCrisp as a sweet, crispy apple that’s grower-friendly with long storability. Mitch Lynd, a grower from Ohio and one of MAIA’s co-founders, states that EverCrisp looks and tastes a lot like Fuji, but it’s a bit crispier.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant:
- Marketing Apple Diversity (LNC08-292)