With the arrival of new apple varieties to the market place, northern New Mexico fruit growers turned to New Mexico State University to determine which cultivars will produce best fruit in their climate.

The Fuji apple from Japan, the Gala apple from New Zealand and the Honeycrisp apple developed by the University of Minnesota have replaced the Red Delicious and Golden Delicious as the most popular apples purchased by consumers.

"The apple industry has changed through the years," said Gene Lopez, a fruit grower in Lyden and advisory board member for NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde. "I raised Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty and Jonathans apples before I knew about Gala and Honeycrisp."

It can be a long-term mistake to change orchards to different varieties without knowing if they will produce in an area's climate.

With apples being the largest fruit crop in the state, the New Mexico Apple Council wanted to avoid such risks so it asked NMSU to conduct an evaluation of eight apple cultivars.

Results from the 15-year-long evaluation indicate that Imperial Gala apple trees will yield well in the Espanola Valley, while the Red Fuji trees have a moderate yield. Honeycrisp trees were not among the original cultivars evaluation, but were added to the orchard for observation of plant growth, yield potential and quality.

Esteban Herrera, retired NMSU Extension horticulturalist, established the orchards at Alcalde in 1996 with funding obtained by the New Mexico Apple Commission, now the New Mexico Apple Council.  Eight cultivars   Red Delicious varieties Imperial Gala, Red Fuji, Red Chief and Red Free; Golden Delicious varieties Ginger Gold and Golden Supreme; and Jonathan varieties Lucky Jon and Akane - were raised to determine which could be recommended to the area apple growers.

Shengrui Yao, Extension fruit specialist stationed at Alcalde, has compiled the results into a recent College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences publication that compared the eight apple cultivars.

Several factors were analyzed during the evaluation. Yield, fruit weight, fruit quality, late frost and fruit sets and training system impact on bloom time and fruit quality.

"Several of the growers incorporated these qualities into their decision to plant some of the new varieties that also had much better eating quality than the standard Red Delicious apple," said retired fruit specialist Ron Walser, who conducted the research in the early 2000s.

Walser recalls that several growers planted some of the new varieties based on the first results from the cultivar evaluation. "Honeycrisp was one variety that we introduced to the New Mexico industry," he said.

"Raising the orchard at Alcalde was interesting," said Fred Martinez, a fruit grower in Dixon. "I planted several of the same varieties when the they began. The micro-climate in Dixon is different than Alcalde so I wondered how the two orchards would compare. What I planted worked well in Dixon, and I was pleased that the choices I made were what were recommended from the research."

Lopez made some changes in his orchard because of the Alcalde cultivar evaluation.

"I put in Red Chiefs because it was one that would sell the most," he said. "I also put in 40 trees each of Gala and Honey Crisp after I saw how they did in the variety test."

Yield and average fruit weights were used to determine which variety could be successful in the Espanola Valley were the evaluation was conducted.