Pegasus Premier Fruit Co., North American licensee for New Zealand-based Prevar’s Smitten apple, has substantially increased plantings of the variety as it prepares bigger commercial volumes.
Wenatchee, Wash.-based Pegasus Premier has about 200,000 trees in the ground, half planted last year and the rest this past spring.
“This fall — in another six weeks — we’ll have testing samples and some commercial production,” Randy Steensma co-owner, said July 31. “Then next year we’ll start ramping it up pretty rapidly.”
The grower-shipper had a testing agreement with Prevar Ltd., Steensma said, but commercial volumes of budwood didn’t start becoming available until 2013.
“Our target goal is to get up to 750,000 bushel boxes, 750 truckloads, and from there let the buyers and ultimately the consumer tell us if this is going to be the next honeycrisp, or how popular this apple is going to become,” he said.
Incremental additions to plantings of Smitten are expected annually, but where the variety might plateau is unclear.
“It comes down to how deep the variety is going to be,” Steensma said. “We think the characteristics are as good as or better than gala. Gala’s becoming the No. 1 apple in America, so the potential is huge on the variety. But we are still bringing it into North America. It’s a structured planting but there’s no limit to it either.”
Initial U.S. sales of Smitten were in the $55 to $60 per box range, according to the company.
“New Zealand has planted it for the last six years and they’ve had commercial production for the last three,” Steensma said. “They’ve been shipping their production into the U.S. along with their braeburns, galas and fujis.”
“In many trips to New Zealand, we looked at all the new varieties and this one caught our eye,” he said. “We agreed to try it in North America and then worked out a commercial growing and packing license for the Northern hemisphere. So now it’s a two-hemisphere program.”
Steensma is also president of Honey Bear Tree Fruit.