Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

How do you like them apples?

GENEVA — Susan Brown jokes that when family comes to visit her home, her kids often crack, “What does a person have to do to get an apple around here?”

That’s because Brown pretty much deals in apples every day of her life as one of the world’s preeminent developers of the fruit, working at Cornell AgriTech, the nation’s oldest apple-breeding program. You may not find many in her refrigerator, however.

In a program focusing on producing great-tasting fruit that can hold up to the perils of nature — including any number of diseases — you have to eat them, she said.

A lot of them.
Cornell AgriTech

Susan Brown and Kevin Maloney are seen in Cornell AgriTech’s Geneva orchards with a new apple variety.

“You eat so many you turn green, and the next day, you do it again,” she said with a laugh.

Her predecessor, the late Bob Lamb, likened it to exploration.

All that exploration — and apple sampling — has paid off again. Three new varieties developed at Cornell AgriTech will be available at the region’s orchards and stores this fall: the Cordera, Pink Luster and Firecracker.

When it comes to developing new apple varieties, there are no overnight successes, said Brown, professor of agriculture at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Cornell AgriTech’s former director.

“It normally takes at least 20 years,” she said.

That’s actually a much shorter time-frame than it used to be.

“In the past, it was 40 to 50 years,” she said. “It is a long-term endeavor.”

With the release of the Cordera, Pink Luster and Firecracker, more than 69 apple varieties have been developed into commercial production at the station since 1880.

Brown noted that much of what they develop never sees a commercial orchard or store.

“Ninety percent is eww,” said Brown, speaking of the reaction a taster gets with some the experimental varieties she and her team develop.

The thrill, she said, is finding that “five percent that are amazing.”

Cornell thinks Brown and her team have hit on the amazing with the three new varieties that can be found in select orchards and stores. Each of them went through the arduous development process — from creating great taste and texture to testing their resiliency in the orchard.

Brown said she spent 23 years pulling the best attributes of the Honeycrisp and Gala to create the Pink Luster, which has bright pink-red skin, a crisp texture and juiciness. It is also a relatively early apple, with the crop available in mid-September, which Cornell said is ideal for the orchard visits that are so popular in the fall in these parts.

The Cordera, Spanish for lamb, is named for her predecessor, Bob Lamb, who bred apples at the Geneva station from 1948 to 1988. He died in 1997.

Brown said the apple naming also pays homage to Lamb’s family, including his wife, Barbara, now in her late 90s, and Betsy Lamb, the ornamentals coordinator at the Integrated Pest Management Program, also on the Geneva campus and also part of the apple-breeding program.

“She (Barbara) is the sweetest lady you’d ever want to meet,” Brown said.

The apple breeder said the Cordera is related to the Liberty, which Bob Lamb named in 1978 with Herb Aldwinckle, professor emeritus of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology at Cornell.

His wife, Barbara, said she is honored with the apple-naming distinction.

“Bob would have been thrilled to know this apple variety was named after him and our family,” she said. “He was passionate about breeding apples and would be thrilled at how successful the apple breeding program is today at AgriTech.”

Cornell said the Cordera not only has great flavor and texture, but can stand up to apple scab, a fungal disease that is common in regions with wet springs. It can significantly reduce crop yield and quality.

Testing has been done across the state, including five years at Wegmans’ Canandaigua orchards. Mark Bowker, orchard crop expert at Wegmans Organic Farm, said the Cordera is an excellent apple for a number of reasons.

“For us, disease resistance makes the performance of NY 56 (Cordera) stand out in our orchard,” he said. “Of course, it always comes down to flavor, and we think it has that too.”

The third new variety, the Firecracker, is being called a “triple threat,” said Brown, meaning it is ideal for eating, baking and hard cider production.

Hard cider apples are generally not good eating, Brown noted, but the Firecracker has the acidity, sugar and flavor as the base for excellent hard cider, a fast-growing craft beverage across the state.

Brown said there is great consumer demand for new and better tasting apples — along with the variety needed to suit a variety of tastes. Not everyone is looking for the same thing in an apple, she explained.

She emphasized that the production of apples at Cornell is not a solo effort by any means. She said it takes a team, pointing to research specialist Kevin Maloney, the Cornell AgriTech field crew, researchers at Cornell AgriTech and the School of Integrative Plant Science, as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York apple industry, which ultimately benefits from the research done at Cornell AgriTech.

This article was originally published by the Finger Lakes Times on September 9, 2020.

« View all posts