MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The greatest success story out of the University of Minnesota’s Horticulture Science Program is rooted in a single apple tree.
“This tree is actually the oldest Honeycrisp tree in existence in the world,” said horticulture science professor Jim Luby, who helps oversee the development of new apple varieties.
The Honeycrisp apple’s broad appeal has become an important part of the research.
“Anything new that we want to put out at least has to have this kind of crunch,” Luby said.
The pipeline process begins at the Horticulture Research Center in Victoria. When the apple blossoms bloom, Luby and other researchers use a cross-pollination technique — and then seal off the blossom with a paper bag to create uninterrupted growing conditions.
The fruit then grows in that bag, and researchers take and grow the new seeds when it’s ripe.
Dozens of potential apple varieties are then planted at the research center, but few will ever make it to the mass-production stage.
“Most of them are destined to be thrown out at some point, but hopefully one or two of them might become a variety,” Luby said.
The research is slow. The time it takes to grow from a seedling to a market-ready apple takes decades.
“To some extent, it’s unpredictable. It’s not like you can say we’ll find a great one every year or every third year. They come along when they come along,” Luby said.
Every so often, there’s the potential for a repeat in Honeycrisp success.
The university is about a year away from bringing its next apple to market, called First Kiss. And there are countless other options still in the growing process.
“We’re always adding new ones in each year as new seedlings begin to have fruit,” Luby said.
The last big success out of the University of Minnesota was Sweetango, which was planted by Minnesota growers in 2006.