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My cherimoya, shortly before it became smoothie fodder.

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October 2, 2008

'Honeycrisp' and the U. of Minnesota Apple Breeding Program

Just came across a nice piece on the University of Minnesota apple breeding program:

With Honeycrisp's patent expiring, U of M looks for new apple (CityPages.com)

I thought the article was a decent "layman's" sort of overview of the UMN apple breeding program, and there's certainly plenty of interest in the program these days thanks to 'Honeycrisp', which has seen a surge of popularity unlike anything I've seen for an apple variety in my lifetime. 'Honeycrisp' at one point commanded an enormous premium, though massive plantings have begun to drive prices down (and there are those who consider it to have been grossly overplanted--many of the trees still due to come into production in the next few years. We'll see how that pans out...)

I like 'Honeycrisp' quite a bit, but I have a hard time believing it really ranks with Google as one of "25 Innovations That Changed The World" (Warning—PDF). It's certainly seen quite the burst of popularity, and yes, it's got an unusual texture, but its basically just a relative outlier on an existing scale of textures. I'm told there are other varieties with a similar breaking texture out there, such as 'Red Baron' (though admittedly I haven't had them). It's definitely good, and it's definitely interesting, but it's an incremental development, not a revolutionary one.

I think the argument is that it was revolutionary in the sense that it revitalized a lot of orchards in the Northeast and upper Midwest, particularly small family farms, and it did in fact do that to an extent. However, I think that's partly due to good marketing, and partly an element of "right place, right time". Full of varieties 50+ years old and little recent momentous development, the market was ripe for something new in the way of apples, and 'Honeycrisp' was distinct enough to fill that niche.

I'm still wondering what the newest UMN apple release is going to be named--last time I spoke to some one who'd heard the name, they treated it as though it was secret on par with a nuclear launch code (even while admitting it was being used freely in some circles). So it better be good.

Update: I noticed that the USDA site on 'Honeycrisp' that I linked to has old, incorrect pedigree--Macoun x Honeygold. This was disproven via molecular fingerprinting some years ago (this was actually the subject of the second Fruit Blog post ever). One parent is 'Keepsake', the other unknown.

I've been entertaining myself playing with grape marker data from the USDA, checking out possible parents for old American cultivars. That's how you know you're a big fruit geek--when you spend hours comparing pedigree data for fun...
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