The American Pomological Society has recognized Arkansas fruit breeder John Clark for his breeding efforts.

Jul 11, 2022
Fruit society honors Arkansas fruit breeder John Clark

Arkansas blackberry and fruit breeder John Clark has been honored for his breeding efforts.

The American Pomological Society (APS) awarded Clark, distinguished professor of horticulture with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, the 2022 Chad Finn Ambassador Award. Through the award, APS recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to pomology, the study of fruit and its cultivation, particularly in outreach and service.

APS presented the award to Clark at the July 30-Aug. 3 American Society for Horticultural Science annual conference in Chicago. Clark is the award’s second recipient. It is named for Finn, a research geneticist and small fruit breeder who worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Horticultural Research Crop Unit in Corvallis, Oregon, from 1993 until his 2019 death.

“Chad was a close professional friend and a close personal friend,” Clark said in a news release. “Chad had a big ol’ laugh, and he could make a lot of racket with it. We had the two largest public blackberry breeding programs, so that was our common bond. But we also were close friends and did a lot of writing together over the years.”

Margaret Worthington

Margaret Worthington, assistant professor of fruit breeding and genetics with the experiment station, said Clark has a fun and engaging storytelling style that makes him a highly sought-after speaker for growers’ associations, industry meetings and academic conferences.

“Dr. Clark has no formal extension appointment. However, he is always willing to answer calls and emails from growers and even home gardeners,” Worthington wrote in a nomination letter.

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.

“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.”

Throughout his career, Clark has given nearly 700 formal presentations and regularly hosts industry groups at the experiment station in Clarksville, Arkansas.

He also composes guitar tunes to accompany new fruit cultivar releases, starred in 30 YouTube videos describing Arkansas fruit breeding innovations and is a recurring grower magazine columnist. Clark has also authored hundreds of peer-reviewed and popular press articles and 12 book chapters. Many of those works were co-authored with Finn.

One of their most significant writing collaborations was a chapter in the Plant Breeding Reviews book series that Clark calls “the most complete documentation on blackberry breeding.” They also traveled the world together to attend fruit grower meetings.

“Many, perhaps most fruit breeders work their whole lives without producing any varieties that truly make a difference,” said David Karp, assistant specialist in the University of California-Riverside’s department of botany and plant sciences.

Dr. John Clark
Dr. John Clark

Karp likened the nomination to recommending Michael Jordan for the NBA Hall of Fame.

“Cultivars that really change the game for a fruit or nut are few and far between,” Karp said in his nomination letter. “Dr. Clark has been so alert, skilled, and fortunate that he has truly revolutionized two major crops: grapes and blackberries.”

Clark’s Prime-Jan and Prime-Jim, the first primocane-fruiting blackberry cultivars, produce fruit on first-year wood and make it possible to grow blackberries year-round and in areas where they could not flourish before.

“Countries all over the planet were now demanding blackberry cultivars originating in little ol’ Clarksville, Arkansas, all due to John’s willingness to invest his energies into getting them into the marketplace,” said Eric Stafne, a Mississippi State University Extension and Research Professor. “Being a gregarious fellow helped burgeon his reputation around the world. His folksy, ‘Mayberry’-like colloquialisms didn’t hurt either.”

As one of the oldest scientific societies, APS is North America’s oldest fruit organization.

PHOTO: The American Pomological Society has recognized Arkansas fruit breeder John Clark for his breeding efforts.

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