GENEVA — The search for the Next Big Thing in apples is never ending, and a breeder working in Geneva at Cornell AgriTech is being honored for her contributions to that pursuit.
Susan Brown, who heads Cornell’s apple-breeding program, has been named a Fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to horticulture through research, teaching, extension work and leadership in the horticulture industry.
“I am honored to receive this award,” she said Monday. “This award also honors the many students, staff (especially Kevin Maloney) and summer scholars who contribute to our research and the breeding program.”
Brown is the former director of what is now Cornell AgriTech, formerly called the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.
Cornell said Brown’s work is important to the New York apple industry, the second largest in the nation next to Washington state, with Wayne County the largest producer in the state and the third largest in the nation. Cornell said the state’s 600 commercial growers produce 30 million bushels annually.
Many of the apples in New York orchards and elsewhere can be traced to Cornell’s breeding program. It is one of the largest in the world and has released 66 varieties over its 115-year history.
Cornell said Brown “has dedicated her professional career to using molecular marker-assisted breeding to develop important apple varieties that provide the best appearance, flavor, growing characteristics and highest prices for New York growers and those in other temperate North American and international regions.”
Her creations include SnapDragon, RubyFrost, Autumn Crisp and Fortune.
SnapDragon and RubyFrost are her two most recent releases and exclusive to New York growers Cornell said they combine superior eating quality with high disease resistance and packout, which means that more market-ready fruit can be picked from each tree at one time. After more than a decade in development, consumers got their first taste of the apples in 2013.
“Both varieties are being tested in other parts of the world for commercialization,” Brown said.
Other varieties developed in Geneva include Cortland, Jonagold and Empire.
Cornell said private and public breeders have increased the pace of new apple varieties aimed at a market hungry for new flavors. Many of these new varieties are taking a bigger slice of the apple market at the expense of older ones.
To that end, Brown noted that this fall, three additional varieties developed in Geneva will be named and available to apple growers in New York and other states.
Brown has published 64 research articles, 60 outreach publications, nine book chapters and holds nine U.S. plant patents: four for sweet cherries, one for a tart cherry and four apple varieties.
A Cornell AgriTech scientist said Brown is deserving of the honor.
“Susan has been breeding for the apples you wish you could have,” said Thomas Bjorkman, professor of vegetable crop physiology in the School of Integrative Plant Sciences, who is also an ASHS fellow. “She’s meeting the needs of everyone involved to get consumers better apples. They have great texture and flavor plus disease resistance, which is critical for growers and valuable environmentally. Efficient tree form makes the economics work. Storage ability means a more marketable apple that people can enjoy for more of the year. Nobody else puts all the pieces together like that.”
Cynthia Haskins, president and CEO of the New York Apple Association, said the group “has a long history working with Cornell University’s apple-breeding program. We are proud of the many accomplishments Susan Brown has contributed to the state of New York and to the apple industry.”
Joy Crist of Crist Brothers Orchards in Walden, said Brown’s work is crucial for her farm and all New York growers. Crist Brothers is a member of Crunch Time Apple Growers, a cooperative formed in 2010 solely to manage and market the SnapDragon and RubyFrost varieties. The cooperative now has 147 growers representing 60 percent of New York’s apple production.
“We’re vying for shelf space in grocery stores with other club varieties,” said Crist. “You have to have an apple that looks good and holds up to harsh handling. The value of Susan’s work is keeping agriculture viable in New York state by growing something that’s appealing to customers, so they choose apples instead of other fruit. Without these new varieties, I don’t see how we’d be able to compete.”