New apple selections from the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA) were evaluated for field performance and consumer preference during 2015/2016. Consumer tastings were conducted at 8 distinct on-farm and farmer’s markets (some locations used repeatedly) in Indiana and Ohio with more than 2500 consumers involved. By iterative process of determining consumer preference of the top selection for each weekend during the harvest season, eight selections were recommended for MAIA variety release. The MAIA is moving forward with releasing these selections. These new releases will provide on-farm and farm marketers unique consumer-preferred varieties unavailable in grocery stores.
This two year project was designed to evaluate a series of new excellent quality and disease resistant apple varieties for Midwestern US growers and consumers. We evaluated Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA) 2nd test and elite selections for field performance and consumer preference. Our field observations of second test and elite trees over two growing seasons, and our consumer taste testing trials at various venues during two harvest seasons contributed to recommendations of MAIA releases focused on consumer-preferred apple selections for on-farm and farmer’s markets over the course of a harvest season.
The objective of this project was to objectively identify candidate apple selections for commercial introduction from an array of advanced experimental material under test at multiple grower orchards in Indiana and Ohio. It is crucial for long-term viability and profitability of Midwest orchards to maintain a pipeline of new regionally-adapted unique varieties with outstanding growing characteristics and consumer qualities. A first step in this process was the introduction of “Evercrisp” in 2014, which promises to be the most widely planted Midwestern apple since “Honeycrisp”. With dozens of advanced selections available through the MAIA program, it will be critical to continue to introduce only the best to assure consumer demand.
In year one, field trials were conducted at sites in Ohio and Indiana, utilizing plantings of approximately 50 advanced selections on dwarfing rootstock, which were blooming and fruiting. Data were collected to determine superior horticultural characters, such as disease resistance, bloom time relative to Golden Delicious standard, non-dropping, ripening uniformity, ethylene insensitivity, and optimal harvest window over the course of a ten week season. In years one and two, fruit from these plantings were used for consumer tasting trials at multiple on-farm retail markets, weekly farmers markets in large and small cities, and special events. Standard tasting protocols were developed for objective consumer preference ratings, with ease of sampling and comparison to standard varieties as primary objectives. Typically, slices of a series of 3 unidentified experimental selections at current peak of seasonal quality were presented in random order, along with an unidentified commercial standard variety for tasting evaluation by 100 consumers. Favorites identified were later presented against each other to further refine consumer preferences. An effort was made in year two to compare selections with similar characters, e.g. red/pink flesh, skin color, degree of sweetness or acidity, odd flavor nuances, overall beauty or ugliness, etc. All horticultural and tasting results were used to develop a plan for potential introduction of one or two superior selections which fill a marketing niche on a weekly basis over the course of a ten week ripening season.
While the MAIA program is an ongoing effort to develop and introduce new superior apple varieties for Midwestern growers and consumers, this SARE project has produced data which allowed logical planning for introduction and promotion of a range of advanced selection germplasm. Using field data and growth observations, plus consumer taste preferences from diverse venues, prospective releases over a 10 week ripening season were identified. Our data contributed to MAIA decisions to proceed with patenting, tree propagation, and release of two advanced selections after the 2015 season. Additionally, two selections with specialized home garden qualities are now introduced through a private nursery company. This past season’s data and observations are being used to make introduction decisions on three new selections in 2018.
Impact of Results/Outcomes
With identification of superior grower- and consumer-preferred selections, a clear plan for promulgation of a series of new high quality, crisp, and disease resistant apple varieties for the Midwest has been established. The process of introducing grower-friendly selections with outstanding consumer qualities will be a continuing endeavor, and evaluation of additional new germplasm will be an ongoing task in future seasons. With the imminent naming and introduction of MAIA 7, 8, 11 and 12 this year, rapid progress is being made toward the goal of providing a seasonal series of new exciting Midwestern varieties for increased consumer demand and grower profit.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Expanded written information about MAIA and new introductions is available at www.midwestapple.com and www.gurneys.com/category/new-main.
It is hoped that MAIA selection introductions will provide substantial benefits to both Midwestern growers and consumers in coming years. Growers will have access to new regionally-adapted varieties with high profit potential and good growth traits. Consumers will be presented with new exciting, crisp, high-quality varieties with unique flavors and appearances, available via local farm markets. This direct-to-consumer aspect should help alleviate the current world trend toward control of the supply chain by a few large commercial entities. Typically, new variety introductions are being “clubbed” in a pay-to-play fashion. Growers are required to pay for the privilege of receiving club rights to grow patented varieties and the production and marketing process is then controlled by an agency for mass commerce. While MAIA selections will be patented and have a per-tree royalty to support the program, access will be available to individual growers, who will be able to market fruit as they see fit.
One trend in horticulture which is very apparent, is the explosive growth and interest in hard cider production in the US. A very intuitive future MAIA research effort would be evaluation and promotion of existing selections for hard cider potential. One unique aspect of MAIA germplasm is the extreme range of internal qualities and flavors inherent in the selections. These range from red flesh, to various tropical fruit flavors, to anise/licorice overtones, to some of the intense bitter-sweet, bitter-sharp characters favored by hard cider makers. Such an evaluation project could gain additional utility and potential profitability from various selections already under test, many of which might not be suited for fresh consumption, but of great interest for hard cider production.