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Washington State University’s New Apple Continues Rolling Forward

By Seth Truscott, WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Sliced WA 64 apples show the newly released variety's yellow-pink skin and white interior. Photo Courtesy of WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

PULLMAN — Washington State University’s newest apple variety, WA 64, is a sweet, tart, firmly crisp hybrid of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink, a variety that includes the well-known Pink Lady®.

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Officially released for commercial licensing this summer, WA 64 is expected to reach stores in 2029. WSU will select a partner in the coming weeks to make trees available to Washington growers, and the college will choose a brand name for the new apple in 2024.

“With WA 64, we’re hoping to fill a useful space in the apple market,” said Jeremy Tamsen, director of innovation and commercialization for WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

Crossed in 1998, WA 64 was chosen for its outstanding eating and storing qualities. Featuring a pink blush over a yellow background, it is slightly less hard but crisper and juicier than its Cripps Pink parent.

“In its bite, it’s more akin to Cripps Pink than Honeycrisp,” said Kate Evans, professor and WSU apple breeder. “In consumer taste-tests, people have preferred its texture to Cripps. It’s crisper than Cripps Pink.”

WA 64 maintains that crisp texture after months in cold storage. Like WSU’s successful WA 38 variety, also known as Cosmic Crisp®, it’s self-thinning, meaning growers don’t have to invest as much labor in thinning fruit. It also has high packout, ensuring that apples aren’t tossed for bruising or punctures before they reach the grocery store. WA 64 is harvested at about the same time as Golden Delicious, giving growers of that apple a fresh alternative.

“In its bite, it’s more akin to Cripps Pink than Honeycrisp,” said Kate Evans, professor and WSU apple breeder. “In consumer taste-tests, people have preferred its texture to Cripps. It’s crisper than Cripps Pink.”

WA 64 maintains that crisp texture after months in cold storage. Like WSU’s successful WA 38 variety, also known as Cosmic Crisp®, it’s self-thinning, meaning growers don’t have to invest as much labor in thinning fruit. It also has high packout, ensuring that apples aren’t tossed for bruising or punctures before they reach the grocery store. WA 64 is harvested at about the same time as Golden Delicious, giving growers of that apple a fresh alternative.

“The main focus of our breeding program is to provide new and improved apples that appeal to consumers and work for the Washington apple industry,” Evans said.

The timing of harvesting should also appeal to growers, Tamsen said.

“It makes sense for the industry to have an apple that falls within the Golden Delicious harvest window, with qualities that consumers want right now,” he said. “We think apple buyers will love it.”

WA 64’s number comes from the fact that it’s the WSU breeding program’s 64th apple to move into the second phase of a three-phase process of selection.

In the first phase, a single new hybrid is evaluated for fruit quality alongside as many as 15,000 other unique individuals. By the second phase, that large group has been winnowed down to about 50 different individuals, compared in groups of five trees. By the third phase, only a handful of finalists are left, compared in groups of 50 trees.

“With more and more trees, we get more fruit to fully evaluate,” Evans said.

Each phase takes several years to complete, so it can take decades for a new hybrid to emerge as a release candidate. The decision on how to move forward is made by a committee of growers and scientists, who weigh whether a new apple can find a useful place in the Washington fruit industry.

Each WA 64 tree is a clone, reproduced through cuttings, with fruit-bearing budwood, or scions, grafted onto different rootstocks. Each scion is genetically identical to the original mother tree seedling.

With specialty crop funding from the Washington State Department of Agriculture, WSU scientists have been studying how WA 64 performs on different rootstocks and orchard systems. Plantings were made in 2022 at WSU’s Roza Orchard at Prosser and the Sunrise Research Orchard near Wenatchee. Some Washington nurseries have already begun growing WA 64 budwood to support future expansion.

“We’re starting with a small amount of budwood,” Tamsen said. “Part of what we’re looking for in a licensee is someone who can scale that up at nurseries so that commercial growers can buy trees. That supply doesn’t exist today, and it can take years to scale it up.”

WA 64 is the fourth WSU apple to be officially released. WA 38, branded as Cosmic Crisp®, was released in 2013, reaching consumers in 2019. WA 2, a cross of Splendour and Gala, branded as Sunrise Magic®, was released in 2010. WA 5, a cross of Splendour and a variety called Co‑op 15, was released in 2009.

WA 64’s debut likely won’t be in the same scale as Cosmic Crisp®, which was one of the largest and fastest commercial plant releases ever. Last fall, Cosmic Crisp® joined the ranks of the top ten best-selling U.S. apple varieties by sales and volume.

Tamsen expects fresh, creative ideas to flow from the new apple’s naming process, which could involve WSU community input as well as focus-group sessions. “Apples aren’t one-size-fits-all,” Evans said. “Different consumers have different preferences. Isn’t it wonderful that we can release WSU varieties that meet more of those different preferences?”

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