SnapDragon is ready for debut

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 September 2013 at 12:00 am

Other new apple, RubyFrost, has another 3 weeks to mature

Photos by Tom Rivers – These SnapDragon apples from Kirby Farms have red color, good size and a juicy crispness.

ALBION – They represent high hopes for New York apple growers and they will soon be put to the taste test. SnapDragon and RubyFrost, two new varieties developed by Cornell researchers, are ready to make their public debuts.

The two new apples will be released at about 40 farm markets throughout the state.

“There’s a lot of people asking, ‘Where can we get it?’” said Roger Lamont of Albion, chairman of the New York Apple Growers LLC. That group formed in a partnership with Cornell to sign up growers and manage the supply.

The apples won’t be readily available in grocery stores until 2015 when recent plantings have a full crop. But they will be at many local farm markets in the next two years.

“Farm markets are good because of the direct contact with growers,” Lamont said.

There is a bigger supply of RubyFrost apples this year, and some will be held in storage until January, when Lamont said they will be released in a limited supply through grocery stores.

“We want to get the consumers’ reaction,” Lamont said.

Lamont drove a truck load of SnapDragons across the state on Friday so farm markets in eastern New York would have the apples. He wants to start developing an eager customer base for the apples.

The new varieties represent a major change in how new apples are managed and marketed. Cornell and other apple breeding programs used to develop new varieties which were then typically slowly released and often in a haphazard manner.

If a variety became popular, growers would plant trees en masse, leading to an oversupply and falling prices.

Tim Kirby checks on his SnapDragon apples in an orchard along Route 31 in Albion. Kirby is selling the apples at Kirby’s Farm Market in Brockport.

Lamont said the new system ensures there is a big supply, but not too many where prices will fall below profitable levels. New York Apple Growers LLC is also directing funding to Cornell’s apple breeding program, to fund research for more new varieties in the future.

The program is open to all New York apple growers, but not to growers outside NY. Some other apple-growing “clubs” have formed in recent years and not all growers had an opportunity to grow and sell new varieties. That put some growers at a disadvantage.

Tim Kirby of Albion said he is grateful the new varieties are open to all of the growers in New York, and that the apples will be managed so there isn’t an oversupply.

“People want something new and different,” he said. “This is real positive for the industry.”

Kirby planted SnapDragon and RubyFrost apples in 2011. SnapDragon has proven “grower-friendly,” requiring less work than another popular variety, the Honeycrisp.

The SnapDragons all seem to ripen at about the same time, meaning they can get picked at once, rather than multiple times.

RubyFrost is a late-season variety. It’s a red apple that tastes sweet and tart.

The Kirby farm picked SnapDragons last week and was one of the first in the state to sell them at a farm market. Kirby’s Farm Market is located on Route 104 in Brockport.

Kirby said they should prove popular with customers because of the apples’ red color, the crispiness and the size. They are a little smaller than Honeycrisp, which some consumers perceive as too big.

Kirby was in an orchard off Route 31 near Riches Corners Road on Friday. He had already picked many of the SnapDragons and had them in crates.

“They color well,” he said about their red skins. “Look at them. They’re beautiful.”

SnapDragon gets its juicy crispness from its Honeycrisp parent, and it has a spicy-sweet flavor.

RubyFrost takes longer to ripen on the tree. That apple will be picked in about three weeks.  It’s a cross between Braeburn with Autumn Crisp.