The 85th meeting of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association was held in conjunction with the Midwest Farm Show at the La Crosse Center today.
The north hall of the La Crosse Center was packed full of informational booths, farm equipment for apple production that was for sale, and meetings about the state of apples in general. The apple industry is growing despite troubles with the decline in honey bees. There is even a new variety to look forward to in 2018.
Apples are one of the most popular fruits and they continue to grow in popularity, even with millennials, because you can just do so much with them. Ralph Yates, the secretary for the Minnesota Apple Growers Association says, "Not only is there a lot of buzz about the hard ciders, it is also an outlet for our second grade fruit. It keeps people interested in our industry and what we're up to and some of the new things we're going to come up with in future years."
Unfortunately, the recent decline in honey bees have put a strain on apple production across the United States. David Bedford, a research scientist and apple breeder for the University of Minnesota adds, "Apples need to have that pollen taken from one tree and applied to another. Honey bees are the critical work force for us, and of course in the U.S. and worldwide there has been some issues with decline."
Nonetheless, the 108 year old apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota is still pushing out new varieties that follow the juicy, yet tasteful trends of the apple industry. Bedford excitedly talks about the new breed of apple by saying, "First Kiss is our newest one. It will be starting to come to market this year from 2018, for the first time. It's a honeycrisp child, so it has some of that same explosive juicy crispness that honeycrisp is so good at. It actually ripens about a month before honeycrisp." David also mentioned that the big difference is that the First Kiss is a little more tart than the honeycrisp.
As for these new varieties, they don't just crop up overnight. David adds, "Only about one tree out of ten thousand that we develop through our hybridization is good enough to be named and released." Slowly, but surely local apple orchards are continuing to grow and it just may be because family traditions never die. Yates said, "You can hardly talk to anyone who says, 'My dad worked there for many years or did this for many seasons', so it's kind of exciting to be involved in that continuity of history and to carry on that tradition."
Minnesota growers are hoping that the new variety, First Kiss, will be the apple of everyone's eyes in 2018. A fun fact about the honeycrisp apple is that it was bred at the University of Minnesota and was released for consumption twenty years ago. As I talked to David Bedford, he said that they worked on creating the honeycrisp apple for nearly thirty years before it came to fruition. Now they are tasting some sweet victory almost 50 years late with its' increasing popularity.
The apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota have research scientists that manually cross pollinate to produce different hybrids. The University of Minnesota apple breeding program is one of only three apple breeding programs in the United States.