Honeycrisp apples being harvested.

MN Impact: UMN Apple Breeding Leads to Increased Choice and New Favorites

September 18, 2019

Objective

U of M apple breeding will lead to increased consumer choice and increased revenues for apple growers (reported as the number of Honeycrisp apple produced in 2018).

Issue

Back in 1996, approximately two-thirds of the apples sold in the U.S. were Golden Delicious or Red Delicious. Neither is known for its outstanding texture or flavor, and neither inspires much enthusiasm today. Today, consumers and growers are reaping the benefits of advances in apple breeding. 

What has been done

The University of Minnesota has one of only three University-based apple-breeding programs in the United States. Originally, Minnesota's climate was thought to be unsuitable for the cultivation of apples but over a century of breeding has led to 27 varieties being released since the breeding and evaluation program began in 1878. Eighteen of those 27 are still available today, including the famous Honeycrisp. 

Results

Honeycrisp apple, released by U of M apple breeders Jim Luby and David Bedford in 1991, has become a nationwide success story. In 2018, for the first time, Honeycrisp apple made the US Apple Associations' top five list. Coming in at number five in 2018, they expect it to continue to climb up the ranks as production in 2017 included 19.3 million units but jumped to 23.5 million in 2018. Notably, despite its high production numbers, Honeycrisp can command as much as twice the price of traditional apple varieties.

Honeycrisp progeny are also fetching premium prices and consumer enthusiasm--the launch of First Kiss, the Minnesota grown version of the early ripening cultivar MN55, led to a sellout after five days at the Minnesota State Fair, even at $3 an apple. Additionally, Star Tribune restaurant critic, Rick Nelson, named it as the best new food of the fair!