University of Minnesota Fruit-Breeding Program
One a day keeps the doctor away
During the 2006 Minnesota legislative session, six fourth-graders from Andersen Elementary School in Bayport, Minnesota, testified before the Senate's State and Local Government Operations Committee, asking that Minnesota adopt the Honeycrisp apple as the state fruit. The committee voted unanimously to forward the bill to the Senate floor, where, on May 10, the unusually crisp and tasty cultivar made the cut. "It's pretty hard to vote against kids and the University of Minnesota at the same time," said Senator Brian LeClair, a Republican from Woodbury, one of the bill's sponsors.
Professor Jim Luby and scientist David Bedford of the University of Minnesota's Agricultural Experiment Station introduced the Honeycrisp to the public in 1991, after years of careful tasting and cross-breeding. Their goal was to develop an apple that could stand up to Minnesota weather. No problem there--the Honeycrisp can last up to ten months in the refrigerator. Plus it needed to taste good. To ensure that, Luby and Bedford bred it to have a slightly tart, slightly sweet flavor along with unusually large cells that account for its crisp, crunchy texture.
About 80 percent of the apples grown in Minnesota today are varieties developed by the university's fruit--breeding program-the only such program in the upper Midwest and one of only four nationwide. The program began in 1908 as the Fruit Breeding Farm on eighty acres near Victoria, Minnesota. In 1978, it merged with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Over its history, the program has developed more than one hundred cold-weather varieties of fruits, from grapes, cherries, and strawberries to pears and apricots. These fruits thrive not only in Minnesota but throughout the northern United States and in Canada.
The fruit-breeding program isn't just good for our appetites--it's good for the region's economy, too. Each Honeycrisp tree puts an estimated $1,000 into the pocket of its grower each year, many of whom are small-business owners just one bad crop away from financial hardship. Take Doug Shefelbine of Holmen, Wisconsin: "Eighty percent of my customers will buy nothing but Honeycrisp," he says. "I don't think we'd be growing apples if we didn't grow Honeycrisp."
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