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Gardening & More: Meet new varieties of New York apples

AN APPLE A DAY — RubyFrost, pictured here, and SnapDragon are two new varieties of New York state apples. Consumers will be able to find them this fall at the East Aurora and Williamsville farmers markets. Photo used courtesy of Cornell University.
HAMBURG — This fall, a couple of Western New York farmers markets will carry two new varieties of apples: SnapDragon and RubyFrost. They were developed by Cornell University, in partnership with the New York Apple Growers, a new industry group.

You can find the apples at the East Aurora farmers market, located at the Aurora Village Tops Plaza on Grey Street and at the Williamsville farmers market, located at 56 E. Spring St. The fruits are being grown at the Mrowka Family Farm in Lockport.

The apples were developed by Cornell University breeder and Horticulture Professor Susan Brown and are being grown by 140 apple farmers throughout New York state.

The two varieties have been a decade in the making. The fruit going to market is a first for the Cornell apple-breeding program and the New York apple industry, according to a press release from Cornell.

Historically, public universities developed new apple breeds and released them to the industry, freely. In 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act gave universities the ability to retain the intellectual property rights for their research, with limited plant-based royalties.

In May 2010, Cornell forged a partnership for a managed release with the industry group NYAG, to establish an exclusive licensing agreement in North America for the two apple varieties. Growers pay royalties on trees purchased, acreage planted and fruit produced, and the income is used to market the new varieties and support Cornell’s apple-breeding program.

Trees are not available to home gardeners.

Farmers must sign an agreement to buy trees from the growers. Many of the 140 farmers who have signed on have been growing the apples since 2011, while some farmers are just starting to grow them now, according to Robin Leous, NYAG business manager.

The crop is still small and the apples are available at only farmers markets across the state right now. Leous said that she expects a limited supply to be in supermarkets next year; the new varieties should be widely available in 2015.

SnapDragon gets its juicy crispness from its Honeycrisp parent and it has a spicy-sweet flavor that was a big hit with taste testers, according to Cornell. It may be a popular apple for snacking, especially for children.

Brown, the breeder, said she recognized the fruit’s promise and fast-tracked it for commercialization.

“I remember my very first bite of SnapDragon,” Brown said. “The taste, the crispness and the juiciness impressed us. Retailers will appreciate its other qualities as well, because although SnapDragon’s harvest window starts relatively early – in late September – its long storage and shelf life means retailers may be able to offer it with consistent quality for a longer time than Honeycrisp.”

RubyFrost, which ripens later in the fall and stores well, will provide a boost of vitamin C well into winter. Brown said that it should be popular with fans of Empire and Granny Smith.

“I think juicy and refreshing when I eat a RubyFrost,” said Mark Russell, an apple grower and NYAG member. “It’s a fascinating apple with a beautiful skin and a nice sugar-acid balance, but to me the crisp juiciness is rewarding, every time.”

In addition to SnapDragon and RubyFrost, Cornell has released 66 apple varieties since the late 1890s, including the popular Cortland, Macoun, Empire and Jonagold. Brown herself has brought consumers the highly popular Fortune and Autumncrisp varieties, as well as one tart cherry and 10 sweet cherry varieties.

Greater quality, better storage and disease and insect resistance have long been the goals of Cornell’s apple breeding program.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of
Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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