How 'bout dem apples: Locally developed apple to be mass-marketed [The Daily Globe, Worthington, Minn.]
(Daily Globe, The (Worthington, MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 24--WORTHINGTON -- For the past two years, visitors to Ocheda Orchard south of Worthington have been able to purchase limited quantities of an apple known only as B-51.
The variety, grown from a Honeycrisp apple seed, is described as sweeter, less acidic and more firm than the much-loved Honeycrisp apple, according to Ocheda Orchard owner and B-51 apple breeder Chuck Nystrom.
It has so many appealing qualities that the variety will soon get a trademarked name by a Washington state-based fruit cooperative that has purchased the rights to the hybrid. The cooperative's members will soon begin growing trees for apples that, in several years, will be mass-marketed like the Red Delicious and Granny Smith varieties.
And to think it all began with a lot of trial and error by a fourth-generation apple grower in southwest Minnesota. Nystrom said 99.99 per cent of the apples developed by breeders across the country don't make it to this level.
If one was talking baseball, you might say B-51 has made it to the big leagues.
"It's kind of fun," Nystrom said with a grin while relaxing in his office at the orchard Thursday afternoon. "There's a lot of stiff competition these days. It will be interesting, for sure, to see how the fruit co-op promotes it."
The B-51 may not have even made it this far if it hadn't been for a little pressure from Nystrom's cousin, Dean Langseth.
"I like an apple with a little more acid," Nystrom said. "It was Dean that identified that as a really good apple. I may have overlooked it."
Horticulturalists and salespeople with the fruit cooperative were given samples of the apple, and Nystrom said they "really like it."
Marketers of fruit to "big fruit companies," Nystrom said the company is an offshoot of Willow Drive Nursery, which he has worked with for years. The company assisted Nystrom with securing a patent for B-51, and two other unique apple varieties are in different stages of the patent process.
"We get a split in the royalties, but without them, we wouldn't have much going," he said.
Nystrom's royalties for developing the new apple variety will include netting a percentage from each new tree sold -- the trees have to be purchased from Willow Drive Nursery in Washington -- as well as a per-year royalty from local growers who sell the variety and a royalty from commercial growers based on pack fruit.
Just how much Nystrom will collect remains to be seen -- it all hinges on "if it's successful in the market," he said.
Tested and tasted
B-51 was licensed to the fruit cooperative seven years ago, and has been tested and tasted in the years since the apples first began producing fruit.
"First they had test trees -- maybe 10 to 20 -- and then, four years ago, they put in a one-acre plot," Nystrom explained. "They planted about 1,500 trees to the acre. Then, last year, they had their first crop on this one-acre plot.
"They harvested it, put it into storage -- they wanted to test how to store it because it's a seedling from Honeycrisp," he added. "If it's stored like Honeycrisp, it lasts longer."
Nystrom visited the cooperative last October to see the fruit generated from the tree variety he developed, and listened intently as co-op officials evaluated the crop.
"They liked what they saw," he said.
Because of the way contracts are written in the apple industry -- taking into account the number of years it takes for a tree to produce fruit, and getting a few years of fruit from those trees -- the cooperative had until this December to decide to market the apple variety. Just recently, Nystrom was told the cooperative wanted exclusive rights so it won't be grown by another fruit company.
With 2,000 trees already growing at various sites, Nystrom said the fruit cooperative plans to have 4,500 of the B-51 trees planted by next year, with 25,000 trees by 2015 and 200,000 trees by 2016.
Since it takes three years of growth before fruit is produced, Nystrom anticipates the apples will be available on a larger scale in 2019.
"You might find it in Seattle or on the West Coast somewhere," he said, adding that he's hopeful some of the fruit will make its way back to Minnesota for market testing in the Twin Cities.
Area consumers don't have to wait that many years to sample the B-51 variety, however. Nystrom said the apple should be available around Oct. 5-10 at Ocheda Orchard, and it will be available elsewhere in the state as well.
"They were generous in allowing some of the area and regional growers to plant this variety," he said, adding that orchards could plant anywhere from 200 to 1,000 trees with the stipulation that the apples be sold through farmers markets or on-site sales. Among those growing the B-51 variety are orchards in Fairmont, Zumbrota and Webster. Nystrom requested orchards within a 50-mile radius of Ocheda Orchard not have access to the variety.
"It's also later maturity (apple), which for us -- depending on the year -- can be a little hard to finish before we have the hard freezes," Nystrom said. Fortunately, it hasn't been an issue in the milder climate of Washington. There, growers have had much success in growing B-51.
Nystrom is hopeful the apple will have its new, trademarked name by the end of the year. The fruit cooperative created a list of potential names for the variety, and all of the co-op's members have been asked to vote for their favorite or come up with their own suggestion.
His top choice -- taken from the list of suggested names -- is Cascade Crunch. Cascade relates to the location of the fruit cooperative, east of the Cascade Mountain range.
"They're having a professional marketing company try to help select a name," he said. "As long as it's not an obnoxious name, I'll be happy with it."
For now, the apple will remain known as B-51, or its patented name, CN-121.
Experimentation is key
Nystrom had never really experimented with crossing different varieties of apple trees to come up with his own, unique variety until about the late 1980s.
"I joined a group called North American Fruit Explorers. The easiest way to describe the group is a bunch of fruits and nuts interested in fruits and nuts," he said with a laugh. "They're always out looking for new varieties that are growing wild, as well as those doing their own breeding."
Group members are encouraged to plant apple seeds -- the only way to get new varieties.
"Every seed in every apple is a unique variety," Nystrom said. "The trick is to identify them and grow the good ones.
"Apple breeding is not any rocket science," he added. "The breeder has no control over the outcome. Most of the time, (the fruit) reverts back to something poorer than the parents."
At one time, the University of Minnesota, which has its own breeding program and developed the Honeycrisp apple, said it took the planting of 10,000 seeds to come up with one new apple variety worth naming. Now, the U of M said it takes 20,000 seeds to achieve success.
"When Honeycrisp became the bar as far as quality, they're planting 20,000 seeds to get one worth commercializing," Nystrom said.
In the early 1990s, Nystrom created a small plot within his orchard to "play" with, and while he'd tested other varieties, in 1994 he planted 300 Honeycrisp seeds.
"As we started to get some really good varieties out there, we've expanded it," he said. "We've had more than the normal success ratio."
In fact, representatives from Regal Fruit International have visited his orchard and identified several potential new varieties worth exploring further.
While B-51 is Ocheda Orchard's first patented apple, Nystrom said getting a patent is "not as impressive as one thinks."
"You can patent any apple you find growing," he said. "If it's grown from seed, it's considered unique. Anyone can patent because it's unique, not because it's going to be successful in the marketplace."
That said, Nystrom has two other varieties -- B-60 and B-110, both grown from Honeycrisp apple seed -- in the process of being patented now. In fact, he received word Friday morning that the patent for B-60 has been approved.
"(The fruit cooperative) submitted paperwork shortly after this one," Nystrom said, adding that he expects the third patent to be completed within the next six months.
Nystrom described B-60 and B-110 as quite unique.
"I know the horticulture people like this other apple that isn't patented yet," he said. "They like it better than B-51."
While the patent process is in progress, Nystrom cautioned that it doesn't mean the apple will make it to the big leagues like B-51. Yet, "We think it's good enough that someone will want it," he said.
Because the patent is in progress, Nystrom is limited in what he can say about the apple, such as its qualities.
Both B-60 and B-110 are licensed to a Washington fruit cooperative, although Nystrom said he has three other varieties licensed to a different group.
"They're licensed to test it and have six years to make a decision," he said, adding that some of the varieties have been tested now for five years.
Meanwhile, Nystrom goes out to the orchard every day to inspect his growing crop of tested new varieties.
"I'm not planting the whole orchard (in B-51)," he said with a grin. "We need to save room for some of these up and coming varieties that we think have potential and have an earlier maturity, too."
Ocheda Orchard is open for the season, now selling Orioles, Sunrise and Monarch varieties. Nystrom anticipates an average crop this year.
"I think we were hurt, still, by the drought last year," he said. "Some things didn't bloom as well as we'd like, and anything that was a late bloomer didn't set (fruit) very well."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.
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