David Bedford has been “saving the world from mediocre apples” for 40-plus years.
Yes, Red Delicious, we’re looking at you.
Bedford, an apple breeder for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Horticultural Research Center, recently unveiled “Triumph,” the program’s 28th apple.
The “child” of apple varieties Liberty and all-time bestselling Honeycrisp, Triumph is not as crisp, but has a firm, juicy texture, Bedford said. He describes it as having a nice sweet tart balance — somewhere between other university favorites SweeTango and Haralson.
Bedford said Henry Ford had a great product in the Model T car. Luckily, he didn’t stop just there. It’s the same with apples.
“I hear, I can go into a grocery store and I already can’t decide. I recently was in Lunds & Byerlys and I think I counted 14 different varieties. Part of the problem is we don’t get national advertising. We’re left wondering what we are buying. There isn’t enough signage telling us what we’re buying,” Bedford said.
Three aisles over, though, a sign directed Bedford to try all 99 flavors of yogurt.
“Americans have gotten used to choices. Really, we don’t release a new apple too often. The apple breeding program has been around since 1888 and this is our 28th release. There is no timetable. It’s not like we’re 4-1/2 years in and we say we have to come out with a new apple. We do it when they’re ready and when one’s worthy,” Bedford said.
Triumph got its start in 1991, ironically the year Honeycrisp was first released to the public. Bedford compares apple breeding to legalized gambling.
“The odds are against us. 1 out of 10,000 seedlings are good enough to make it through the system. It’s about finding those diamonds in the rough,” he said.
Triumph’s triumph is its extra layer of resistance to diseases, especially the apple scab fungus. Bedford said the disease doesn’t kill the tree, but it is a cosmetic thing, which is “pretty important when you’re selling apples.” Apple scab can develop to the size of a dime on an apple.
“In Minnesota, if you don’t spray the trees, you will get some scale of scab. As a homeowner, you can get around it by eating around it, but with larger-producing orchards, you have to spray,” Bedford said.
While most apples have a single gene to resist scab, Triumph has a second “firewall.” That should allow growers to reduce or eliminate chemical spray.
“It’s a win for everybody. I think as Triumph as a ‘tri.’ There will be less use of chemicals, which is a win for growers. It’s a win for a consumer because of less chemicals. And it’s a win for the environment,” Bedford said.
When Honeycrisp was released, the bar was set pretty high, Bedford said. Triumph’s release moved to the front of the line because of its improvement with an added gene.
“There’s no sense in making one more of the same,” said Bedford, who is one of 10 apple breeders around the country. The University of Minnesota is one of three schools with a breeding program. Others are Cornell University and Washington State University.
Don’t expect to see Triumph on the shelves soon, or maybe ever. Bedford said the variety was never developed to compete with Honeycrisp for shelf space.
Instead, it will be found at local and organic orchards, the Arboretum and will be available for homeowners’ backyards. And apples won’t be ready for five to six years.
Bedford said trees will be available at local garden centers, a small amount at first, in 2022.