Nov 6, 2012
Apple stays EverCrisp

After more than a decade of breeding, the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA) is ready to release its first apple variety: EverCrisp.

MAIA, a loose organization of private breeders, is calling EverCrisp a “managed open” release. The association will charge trademark and royalty fees to those who want to grow the new variety (to help perpetuate the breeding program), but no one will be excluded, said Bill Dodd, MAIA’s president.

“We’re not going to limit who has access,” Dodd said. “The intention is for the group to share what it came up with.”

The new fresh-market apple is being patented as MAIA 1, but will sell under the trademarked name EverCrisp. Some test trees will be available for MAIA members in 2013 and 2014, but the budwood supply is limited right now. Trees for other growers will be available in spring 2015, from Wafler Nursery in Wolcott, N.Y., Dodd said.

The new apple probably won’t start showing up in grocery stores until 2017, said Bill Pitts, Wafler’s nursery manager.

EverCrisp, a cross of Fuji and Honeycrisp, has a sweet flavor. It’s closer to Fuji in resemblance, but shares some of Honeycrisp’s texture characteristics. The new apple ripens from middle to late October, Dodd said.

Probably the most outstanding characteristic is how well it keeps. That’s where the name EverCrisp comes from, he said.

“Its greatest characteristic so far is storability,” Dodd said.

He kept one in his refrigerator for 11 months, and it was still in decent condition, he said.

“You put this in a fruit bowl in the kitchen, and three weeks later it’s still crisp and sweet,” said David Doud, owner of David Doud’s Countyline Orchard in Roann, Ind. Doud, a member of MAIA, was the first to grow the seedling that eventually became EverCrisp.

To Mitch Lynd, a grower from Ohio and one of MAIA’s co-founders, EverCrisp looks and tastes a lot like Fuji, but it’s a bit crispier. It’s also more “grower friendly” than Fuji. With the older variety, there’s a “lot of tree and not a lot of apples. EverCrisp makes a lot of apples but not a lot of tree,” Lynd said.

“EverCrisp is way more productive and much easier to manage.”

In Doud’s location, north-central Indiana, EverCrisp ripens from Oct. 10 to Oct. 15 or so, roughly two weeks after Golden Delicious. Doud will be able to count on it for three weekends in October.

He’s only had a few years to study EverCrisp, but it does not appear to be a high-maintenance variety. The mother tree set four crops in a row with no thinning. It ripens evenly. There’s a long picking window, Doud said.

Doud currently grows about 50 varieties on 20 acres; his family has worked with hundreds of varieties over the years, including heirlooms. None of them compete with EverCrisp, he said.

Honeycrisp, which ripens four to six weeks earlier than EverCrisp, makes a lot of money, but it has some preharvest drop and bitter pit problems, at least in northern Indiana. EverCrisp hasn’t shown those problems, Doud said.

Doud has about 100 EverCrisp trees in the ground right now. The bad weather of 2012 wiped out his small crop for the season, but he expects about half the trees to produce next year. His EverCrisp trees are semi-dwarf, on M.7 rootstock.

When allowed to hang on the tree into November, EverCrisp has exhibited watercore, Doud said.

Other weaknesses might appear in the future, as use of the new variety expands, but only time will tell, Lynd said.

First of many

Lynd, who founded MAIA in 1998 with Ed Fackler, said there are an “awful lot” of good apples in the association’s breeding pipeline. EverCrisp is just the beginning.

Lynd, Fackler and the few dozen growers and nurserymen who joined MAIA got together because they were concerned about proprietary apple varieties. They decided to breed their own apples instead of scrambling to get them from somebody else, Lynd said.

Most of MAIA’s members are in Ohio, but there are others in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Michigan. The association’s structure is extremely loose. Members make crosses, plant seedlings and evaluate the results pretty much on their own. If one of them discovers he’s got a superior apple, all the members have access to it, Lynd said.

Doud, one of MAIA’s original members, received his first seedlings in 2000 – including the seedling that became EverCrisp, he said. (Greg Miller, a chestnut breeder in Ohio, made the initial cross, Lynd said.)

EverCrisp first caught Doud’s attention in November 2008, when he was making a pass through his seedling plantings. Half a dozen of the apples in the block were crisp and sweet, but EverCrisp stood out because of its appearance. He sent several samples to Lynd and Fackler, and they picked EverCrisp as the best of the lot, Doud said.

He took good care of the mother tree, and the next year he presented the apple at MAIA’s annual board meeting. The growers there, who know a thing or two about apples, were smiling and laughing about the new variety.

“Most of them don’t get excited about apples much,” Doud said.

It’s not just the growers who are excited. Based on customer reactions to Doud’s samples, EverCrisp is going to sell well, he said.

Diane Miller, a tree fruit Extension specialist with Ohio State University, has data to reinforce Doud’s optimism. She tested consumer reactions to the apple at Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show in November 2010. Based on the data, EverCrisp rated higher than Fuji and Cameo and was equivalent to Honeycrisp and SweeTango, she said.

“We already knew EverCrisp was a fabulous apple,” Miller said. “This confirmed it.”

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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