2 New Apples Blossom in Empire State

A decade in the making, a Cornell apple breeder finally releases two new apple varieties to the fruit market, and they’re expected to be a hit.

by Dani Yokhna

Two new apple varieties, RubyFrost (pictured) and SnapDragon, were introduced to the New York market this month by Cornell University and New York Apple Growers. Photo courtesy Kevin Maloney (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy Kevin Maloney
Two new apple varieties, RubyFrost (pictured) and SnapDragon, were introduced to the New York market this month by Cornell University and New York Apple Growers.

You now have two more ways to keep the doctor away, thanks to apple breeders in the Empire State.

After years of development and consumer testing as “NY1” and “NY2,” Cornell University and New York Apple Growers, LLC, a company that grows and markets selections from Cornell’s apple-breeding program, have given the two new apples names worthy of their unique assets: SnapDragon and RubyFrost.

SnapDragon, formerly NY1, gets its juicy crispness from its Honeycrisp parent and, its spicy-sweet flavor was a big hit with taste testers. Mark Russell, an apple grower and NYAG member, anticipates it will be a popular apple for snacking, especially for children.

 “SnapDragon is a great name for this apple because consumers found its crispy texture and sweet flavor so appealing,” Russell says.

Cornell breeder and horticulture professor Susan Brown, who developed the apple varieties, recognizes SnapDragon’s promise and has fast-tracked it for commercialization.

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“I remember my very first bite of SnapDragon,” Brown says. “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, formerly NY2, which ripens later in the fall and also stores well, will provide a boost of vitamin C well into winter. Brown expects it will be popular with fans of Empire and Granny Smith apples.

“I think juicy and refreshing when I eat a RubyFrost,” Russell says. “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.”

The two varieties have been a decade in the making, and how they’ve gone to market is a first for the Cornell apple-breeding program and the New York apple industry. Historically, public universities developed new apple breeds and released them to the industry freely. But 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 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.

The first SnapDragon and RubyFrost trees were planted in farmers’ orchards in 2011, and now 400 acres are growing across the state. The still-young trees will produce a limited crop this year, according to NYAG, but intrepid consumers can search out SnapDragon and RubyFrost at select NYAG farm stands across the state. By 2015, the varieties will be vying for space in grocery stores among the Empires, Galas and Honeycrisps.

Greater quality, better storage, and disease and insect resistance have long been the goals of Cornell’s apple breeding program. 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 10 sweet and one tart cherry varieties.


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