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Pundit’s Mailbag: Arkansas’ Contribution to Cotton Candy and Other Grape Varieties

One of the most important produce breeders in the world is about to retire from his position at the University of Arkansas. The American Pomological Society is giving him an honor, as did the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association.

He already won the National Plant Breeders Association Impact Award. He has been named a Fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science, inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame and has been granted the Distinguish Service Award by the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association.

Today, however, the honor is on the Pundit, because Professor John R. Clark, as he prepares to move on, deigned to present us with a letter:

I have long admired your Perishable Pundit.

I have worked in fruit breeding for over 40 years at the University of Arkansas, and am finishing up my career with the University this year. I have had a big time in the academic world of fruits but also spent many years in pure product development in breeding.

It is possible you have heard of the impact of the Arkansas program on blackberries, but likely you have not heard of one of the more noteworthy impacts, the flavor parent for Cotton Candy grapes. Your recent writings on the Global Grape Summit caught my eye, and I have read various writings on that. The wide range of flavors in Cotton Candy, Candy Hearts, Candy Dreams, Candy Snaps and some others trace back to table grape breeding here.

You might get a kick out of the attached, a sidebar I wrote for a trade magazine back in 2015 that focused on the future of fruit breeding in 15 years. I tell the early story of the Cotton Candy  grape, how it came about, and now years later we get to see its success and impact.  

This might be interesting to you, some details that don’t get in the headlines. But the agreement put in place in 2002 with International Fruit Genetics (IFG) with somewhere most folks don’t know where is (Arkansas) has made a big impact on the range of table grape products.

Keep up the good work!

John R Clark
Distinguished Professor
University of Arkansas

Professor Clark and his work are known across the globe: Arkansas fruit breeder’s progeny grown throughout the world

John and this Pundit share a character trait… we both answer calls and emails:

“It’s a little bit of a business decision but also just being courteous,” Clark said of his call-backs to growers and gardeners, both in-state and out-of-state. “I hold fast to that.

Almost 42 years have gone by, and I’m always learning. I usually get a story about it, too. If someone asks me something, I’m going to answer them as best I can.”

Clark said he stops short of giving advice that should come from a Cooperative Extension Agent, such as pH and fertilizer recommendations. And although the fruits he has developed are varieties for Arkansas growers, he said they are used worldwide.

In the piece Professor Clark sent along, he told the story of how David Cain, who was at the Global Grape Summit in Bakersfield, California, came to interact with the breeding program at the University of Arkansas and how this ultimately led to the Cotton Candy grape variety. You can read the article here: Fifty Years of Grape Breeding Leads to Cotton Candy

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