Arkansas Fruit Breeder John R. Clark Reflects on 42-Year Career With Division of Agriculture






Fred Miller/U of A System Division of Agriculture

John Clark began his fruit tree breeding career as a research assistant in July 1980 and retired in January 2023 with the title of Distinguished Professor of Horticulture.

A walk through the local grocer or fruit stand at a farmer’s market is sure to pick up grapes, peaches, nectarines, blackberries and blueberries bearing John Reuben Clark’s fingerprints.

During his 42+ year career at the U of A System Department of Agriculture and Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, he was a fruit breeder and Distinguished Professor of Horticulture at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. He is the co-creator of 81 fruits, including Prime-Jim® and Prime-Jan®, the first Primocaine fruit blackberries to flower and bear fruit in first-year sugar cane.

Primocane’s fruiting properties extend the ripening season of blackberries into late summer and fall, extending the domestic production and sales season from one to two months of summer to potentially six months or more. experimental station. Primo cane’s fruiting properties have expanded production to new parts of the world and encouraged organic production, Worthington added.

Clark will officially retire from the agricultural sector at the end of January.

“Dr. Clarke and his program have transformed small fruit industries across the country and around the world,” said Wayne McKay, director of the horticulture department. “He has the unique ability to imagine what the consumer wants and create varieties that meet that need.”

McKay said Clark has also been successful in working with the berry industry to market new varieties.

“This was most evident in his germplasm license, which allowed the industry to create new varieties of flavored table grapes like cotton candy, changing what consumers expected of that product category. “He’s really a game changer.”

“Quality is key” in the fruit industry, says Clark. Because there are so many new varieties and competition among fruits.

“I wouldn’t have said that 40 years ago,” Clark said. “The key is that you want thorn-free blackberries and high yields.”

After perfecting the thornless blackberry and developing many other positive traits for fruit growers, Clarke’s work seems to focus more on consumer preferences and shipping traits that enhance fruit survival. became.

A pioneer in patent licensing

The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 allowed universities and non-profit research institutes to own, patent and commercialize inventions developed under federally funded research programs. . Clarke’s predecessor, James Moore, began patenting varieties in his early 1980s, but Clarke has been involved in an increase in variety patent licenses and agricultural sector breeding and testing contracts that began in the early 2000s. expanded its intellectual property program, including the establishment of This emphasis later coincided with the development of the Technology Commercialization Office. Income from intellectual property fully supports Arkansas’ fruit breeding program, Clark said.

Nathan McKinney, assistant director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and former Technology Licensing Officer for the Department of Technology and Commercialization, said: “John didn’t blend science and business like other faculty members.”

Worthington said many of the cultivars Clark has developed have been particularly successful in the blackberry industry.

In addition to varieties released directly from the Arkansas Fruit Breeding Program, Clark also works with Driscoll’s, International Fruit Genetics, and other corporate collaborators around the world through breeding agreements using proprietary genetics created by the program. Developed new varieties in collaboration with Innovative table grape flavors have been transferred from Arkansas to his IFG proprietary varietals, and his trademarked Cotton His Candy and Candy Hearts are among his most popular examples. Worthington said the unique flavor developed in Arkansas has created a global excitement for the table grape industry.

spread the word

A world-renowned fruit breeder himself, Clark has been musically active since 2013 with melodic guitar instruments he’s composed to accompany agriculture sector YouTube videos illustrating new fruit varieties in Arkansas. has a good reputation. The video was prompted by Dave Edmark, a former Experimental Station science his writer. Experimental Station science editor and photographer Fred Miller produced the original video and recorded Clarke’s music to go along with it.

Clark narrated 29 videos and provided original songs such as “Table Grape Getalong” to accompany a series of table grape varietal releases. The video has been viewed over 350,000 times.

On occasion, Clarke wrote cultivar-specific songs such as “Traveler” and “Dazzle” that musically captured the fruit’s character. For example, the Prime-Ark® Traveler Blackberry song has a melody that “travels” up and down the fretboard, emphasizing the “move and ship” nature of the breed. Dazzle, a pink wine grape, called for “flat picking” to give it “a little bit of momentum,” Clark said.

Clark also growing produce When american orchard magazine. He has authored over 800 publications in his career, including nearly 400 of his service and popular press articles, 12 book chapters, and 186 peer-reviewed publications. will be

From the beginning

Clark began his plant breeding journey in early July 1980 at the Arkansas State Agricultural Experiment Station as a research assistant to Moore, the founder of the Fruit Breeding Program. Clark arrived in Fayetteville from his home state of Mississippi with his wife Sharon and his one-year-old son Jonathan. Clark holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Horticulture from Mississippi State University, and in Madison, Mississippi, he was raised on the JR Clark Dairy Farm. His family grew beef cattle and row crops there.

Farming was essentially in his constitution, he says, until he came to Fayetteville about a year after attending a grape breeders conference at the department’s fruit research station near Clarksville. Fruit breeding was outside his field. He told me about facilities in Fayetteville like.

With a view to continuing his education in horticulture, a job with Moore that paid him $12,000 a year in 1980, Moore took one class each semester and taught at the Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville. I was able to complete my PhD while working. She received her PhD in 1983. She became the resident director of the Fruit Research Station and continued working with Moore on fruit breeding projects until Moore retired in 1996 and Clark relocated to his campus in Fayetteville.

Arkansas Genetics for Everyone

While fruit breeding programs have always focused on breeding in Arkansas, the genetics from these developments may be more valuable to growers outside of the state, Clark said.

“The breeding program is here to help Arkansas growers,” Clark said. “Because that’s our primary focus, if something works elsewhere, or genetics are valuable elsewhere, it’s always secondary to Arkansas growers.

“The impact of John’s career is truly global, but his focus on ‘Arkansas First’ has never wavered,” McKinney said.

“This was a great opportunity,” Clark said. “Inspiration is what contributes to what is happening for you, drives enthusiasm, and expands those opportunities. I am grateful to work for an organization that supports those opportunities. It was a lot of work. I sweated a lot, but it’s really great that everything worked out.”

Awards and other achievements

Throughout his career, Clark has received several top honors from the agricultural sector and professional organizations such as the American Horticultural Society and the American Society of Pomology. He has served on numerous commissions and committees dedicated to horticulture and fruit breeding and has four doctorates. He is a student, 11 masters and 13 undergraduates. Many lead breeding and research programs in the public and private sectors. He has also served informally as a mentor to many young researchers and extension his specialists around the world. Clark was inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2018.

For more information about the Agricultural Research Division, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website (https://aaes.uada.edu). Follow @ArkAgResearch on Twitter. For more information on the agriculture sector, please visit https://uada.edu/. Follow @AgInArk on Twitter. For Arkansas extension programs, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu.

About the agricultural sector: The mission of the University of Arkansas Systems Agriculture Division is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by linking sound research with the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and Joint Extension Service, the agricultural sector conducts research and extension work within the country’s historic land grant education system. The Department of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas system. It has offices in all 75 Arkansas counties and faculties on five system campuses. The University of Arkansas School of Agriculture recognizes race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or other legally protected status. and is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer.



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