Breeders with apple trees at HRC.

Apple Breeding: History and Cold Hardy Expertise

August 28, 2015

Historical apple research photo.

The University of Minnesota is known worldwide for its expertise in cold hardy variety research. For over a century, dedicated U of M researchers and fruit breeders have persevered in the development of hardy, high-quality apples that can thrive in harsh conditions of extremely cold winters and hot, dry summers.

The Minnesota climate is colder than most fruit-producing regions. It’s not surprising that the first apple breeding efforts in Minnesota looked to Russia; in 1865 about 150 apple varieties were imported for testing. In the early 1900s, U of M plant breeders collected wild trees as well as cultivars from New England and other Midwest breeders. Thousands of seedlings were grown from those parent trees. The record-breaking cold winter of 1917-1918 helped sort out the winners and the losers. Some progeny of 'Malinda', a New England variety, survived and led to the successful apples released in the 1920s, including 'Haralson' and 'Beacon.' Some 'Malinda' genes live on in varieties released decades later, including 'Honeygold.'

Jim Luby and David Bedford in orchard.Apple seedlings are put through harsh trials of cold and disease. Today U of M researchers create severe winter conditions in laboratory freezers, inoculate seedlings with diseases, and use dwarfing rootstocks to reduce the years that a tree needs to produce fruit. Potential new varieties are also planted at commercial nurseries and at the University's North Central Research Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the coldest horticultural research center in the lower 48 states. The research to arrive at desired qualities and characteristics takes decades.

University scientists also work to help home growers adopt strategies that can improve winter survival and pest management, such as bagging apples on trees when they are small to avoid pesticide use throughout the growing season.

Apple Breeding History (.pdf)

Apple Breeding Timeline (.pdf)

Apple Breeding Staff

James Luby, Professor

Jim Luby, fruit breeder.

B.S. Crop Science, Purdue University
Ph.D. Plant Breeding and Genetics, University of Minnesota

Supervises University of Minnesota fruit breeding programs at the University of Minnesota's Horticultural Research Center. Involved in introduction of 26 fruit varieties. Teaches courses in fruit production, viticulture and plant breeding.

David Bedford, Research Pomologist

David Bedford, Fruit Breeder.B.S. Biology, Wheaton College
M.S. Horticulture, Colorado State University

Manages apple and tree fruit breeding and evaluation programs at the University of Minnesota's Horticultural Research Center. Involved in introduction of Honeycrisp, Zestar!® and SnowSweet® apples.

Did You Know?

From the initial cross to release date, it takes on average 20-30 years for a new apple variety to hit the market.