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The U of M's latest apple variety, Triumph, and why you can't taste it yet

David Bedford, University of Minnesota researcher and apple breeder, said they have most of the world’s supply of Triumph apple trees. They have four trees.

MINNEAPOLIS — Apple season is underway! There’s the First Kiss, the Sweetango, and of course, the Honeycrisp. But what about that elusive Triumph, the University of Minnesota's newest apple variety released in January?

David Bedford is a research scientist and apple breeder at the U of M. He takes us to the advance testing block at the horticulture research center, and this is where we found the rare fruit. 

WHAT IS THE TRIUMPH?

"Most of what you see behind me is most of the world’s supply," Bedford said.

There are currently four trees populating with Triumph apples. Bedford is a senior research fellow and apple breeder in search of "explosively crisp apples." He, along with a team of researchers, gave the clear for release of the Triumph.

"It’s a cross between Honeycrisp and another variety that has some disease resistance called Liberty and our goal was to capture some of that crisp juiciness of Honeycrisp but have an variety that had actually extra disease resistance," Bedford said.

Bedford said the variety is “triumphing” over apple scab, a fungal disease. He said the "tri" part means this concept could benefit three different groups: the grower, who will apply fewer chemicals, and the consumer who will consume fewer chemicals.

"Of course the third winner is the environment," Bedford said.

Bedford said it’s all been quite the wait.

THE LONG GAME

"It was 31 years from the time that the breeding was done on this one until we released it this year so it’s definitely a long game," Bedford said.

The more than 100-year-old program was created to develop varieties of apple that would live in Minnesota’s climate. Bedford said since then, 28 varieties have been named and released.

"Our job is to develop ones that are better than others and in fact, our goal is to develop apples that really make it a memorable eating experience," Bedford said. Many times, apples will never see the light of the grocery store aisle. Bedford knows that because he has to taste about 500 to 600 apples a day during the peak of the season!

"But when you find those good ones even though it’s surrounded by a lot of mediocre, even bad ones, they stand out just enough that you say this has promise," Bedford said.

He said even at that, you can’t be sure until they’ve tested for multiple years, in a normal setting that it’ll perform that way year after year. He said occasionally, they’ll get what they call a "flash in the pan." It tastes promising, and then they come back and taste it again next year and it's disappointing. Bedford said it's about weeding out the posers and finding the real winners.

WHERE CAN I FIND TRIUMPH?

You won't see the Triumph at your local grocery store just yet. Remember the long game? Bedford said the Triumph has been officially been released but unfortunately it takes the trees several years to bear fruit. Bedford said they've completed the testing phase and have sent plant material to commercial nurseries who are now in the process of propagating and increasing the tree numbers through grafting, or cloning. Those trees will be available for sale at nurseries and garden centers starting in 2022 and 2023.

"They’ll be ready for sale, they’ll be some next year as early as 2022 and from then on they’ll become more and more available," Bedford said. "Once we get to the point where we’re ready for release, then we release them to the nurseries and nurseries begin to make the trees and that takes about two years," he said.

Triumph has been released as an “open variety” which means growers can purchase trees directly from nurseries that are licensed by the University of Minnesota to propagate and sell Triumph apple trees. The following nurseries are currently licensed to do that:

Cameron Nursery (WA)
Gold Crown Nursery (WA)
Moser Fruit Tree Sales (MI)
Bailey Nurseries (MN)
Adams County Nursery (PA)
• Schlabach’s Nursery and Orchard (NY)
Wafler Family Orchard (NY)
C&O Nursery (WA)
Cummins Nursery (NY)
Gardens Alive (IN)
Hilltop Fruit Trees (MI)
Willow Drive (WA)

Those interested in growing their own apple trees can purchase this new variety as it becomes available at local nurseries over the next several years.