KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) _ Washington's apple industry wants to make sure that a bite into a Red Delicious will yield a satisfying crunch, not a mouth full of mush.

Rich Ozanich and Al Robinson hope their research into systems to test apples' crunch without destroying the fruit will bring that certainty a little closer.

Ozanich's small Richland company, Berkeley Instruments, is a few months away from unveiling a new generation of near-infrared devices to detect bad apples without harming good ones.

And Al Robinson, a former Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories researcher and president of Columbia Basin Instruments, is building his own nondestructive test to find crisp fruit using air pressure chambers.

``Our product suffers from inconsistencies in the market,'' said George Ing, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Ing's panel is paying $100,000 for the two research programs, which are competing to become the industry standard.

``When people buy (apples), they may look good,'' Ing said. ``But the range of quality and firmness varies. This is the real bane of our marketing strategies because there isn't a way to segregate (apples) by firmness or internal quality of any kind.''

The commission has tried to develop nondestructive internal tests for 12 years, with little success, including tapping tests to check for firmness.

``It isn't that people haven't tried,'' Ing said, but ``usually they damage the apple to tap it enough to get the sound waves through it.''

Lack of consistent quality is part of the reason the Red Delicious' market dominance has diminished over the years, though it's still grown on more acres than any other type in Washington.

Asia's economic woes coupled with trade barriers in Mexico and a flood of Chinese apples have created a slack market that is driving Washington farmers out of business.

``Washington has always prided itself on having the finest quality in the world, and there's a lot of pressure to maintain that,'' said Denny Hayden, tree fruit research commissioner in Pasco.

The research work being done by Ozanich and Robinson may not single-handedly relieve industry pains, but ``it could solve a lot of problems for us,'' Hayden said. ``It's real vital information they are working on.''

The Washington State Horticultural Association is proposing new rules this summer to expand the state's Red Delicious and Delicious inspection programs so each box will be certified year-round.

``We want to provide the consumer a much more crunchy ... crisp apple,'' said Jim Quigley, state fruit and vegetable program manager in Olympia.

The Tree Fruit Research Commission hopes to come up with a system so every apple can be checked on the inside.

``You could assure that no bad apples reach the market,'' said Ozanich. ``As soon as somebody is able to say we've got guaranteed sweet, firm fruit, ... pretty soon other people will have to follow.''