Cornell & apple industry group introduce two new varieties of apples

RubyFrost apple from Cornell University
RubyFrost apple. Photo courtesy Cornell University

Cornell University, in partnership with the New York Apple Growers, a new industry group, has developed two new apple varieties of apples, SnapDragon and RubyFrost, that will be available this fall at a few farmers markets.

The apples were developed by Cornell University breeder and Horticulture Professor Susan Brown. They are being grown by 140 apple farmers throughout New York State.

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, according to a press release from Cornell.

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 New York Apple Growers (NYAG), an  industry group, 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.

Trees aren’t available to home gardeners.

SnapDragon apple from Cornell University
SnapDragon apple. Photo courtesy Cornell University

Farmers sign an agreement to buy trees from the growers. Many of the 140 farmers who have signed on have been growing the apples since 2011, while some farmers are just starting to grow them now, according to Robin Leous, business manager at NYAG.

The crop isn’t large enough to sell retail yet, but you can find some of the new apples at farmers markets this fall, she said. See the attached list of farmers markets across the state that will sell the new varieties of apple. Leous  expects a limited supply to be in supermarkets next year, and the new varieties should be widely available in 2015.

SnapDragon gets its juicy crispness from its Honeycrisp parent, and it has a spicy-sweet flavor that was a big hit with taste testers, according to the Cornell press release. It may be a popular apple for snacking, especially for children.

Brown, the breeder, said she recognized its promise and fast-tracked it for commercialization.

“I remember my very first bite of SnapDragon,” Brown said. “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, which ripens later in the fall and 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.

“I think juicy and refreshing when I eat a RubyFrost,” said said Mark Russell, an apple grower and NYAG member. “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.”

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 cherry and one tart cherry varieties.

Greater quality, better storage, and disease and insect resistance have long been the goals of Cornell’s apple breeding program.

SnapDragon closeup from New York Apple Growers


Update: A reader had a question (see below) about how to tell SnapDragon and RubyFrost apart. Robin Leous sent along this closeup photo of SnapDragon, and you can see her explanation below in the comments section.

4 Comments on “Cornell & apple industry group introduce two new varieties of apples

  1. I’m hoping that you actually picked SnapDragon because it’s a little early to be picking RubyFrost. This might explain why you mention that you prefer one over the other, because the RubyFrost isn’t quite ripe. SnapDragon is dappled or freckled meaning it is primarily red but has some yellow speckled in. It is very sweet and breaks away when bitten into. RubyFrost is a very dark red apple when ripe. It is not as sweet as SnapDragon but very tasty as well. I hope this helps answer your question.

  2. The orchard I was at had both. Liked one more than the other. Now am confused about which I picked. Pictures are not close enough to ID the apples I have. These are smooth bottom like macs not bumpy like delicious. The top have a little swirl of green and the apples are specked!! Any idea which?

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