University of Minnesota Fruit-Breeding Program

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Winning Nomination

Imagine a fall without Minnesota-grown apples. Before the University of Minnesota got involved, there were no apple trees that could survive our harsh climate. Horace Greeley reportedly said in 1860, "I would not live in Minnesota because you can't grow apples there."

In 1865, U of M researchers obtained about 150 apple cultivars from Russia, for evaluation and for crossbreeding experiments, and have since made steady progress. Apple varieties introduced by the U of M include the Haralson, Beacon, Fireside, Regent, Honeygold, and Honeycrisp--a complete list follows. Each has its own flavor and harvest time, and more importantly, each is hardy in our state.

In addition to apples, the U of M has also introduced many economically important varieties of hardy grape, cherry, blueberry, strawberry, plum, pear, currant, apricot, and gooseberry. These varieties of fruits are grown not only in Minnesota, but also throughout the northern U.S. and Canada. Our northern harvest season would be much less colorful if it weren't for the horticulture researchers at the U of M.

Apple varieties introduced by the U of M are as follows: Minnehaha 1920, Folwell 1922, Wedge 1922, Haralson 1923, Beacon 1936, Prairie Spy 1940, Minjon 1942, Vicotry 1943, Fireside 1943, Redwell 1946, Oriole 1949, Lakeland 1950, Regent 1964, Honeygold 1969, Red Baron 1969, State Fair 1978, Sweet Sixteen 1978, Keepsake 1979, Honeycrisp 1990, Zestar 1998.
~Stewart Corn, St. Paul, MN, and Jim Luby, St. Paul, MN

Runner-up Nominations

Honeycrisp apple This apple was created at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Stations Horticultural Research Center and was named as our state fruit in 2006 by the legislature. It's explosively crisp, well-known, widely grown, and retains its color well. The 2006 Better World Report selected the U of M's development of Honeycrisp as one of the top 25 innovations in over the last decade.
~Monica Wright

Honeycrisp Apple Developed at the University of Minnesota. A honey of a treat grown in Minnesota.
~Minnesota Four BJCY, Oakdale, MN



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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