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Sept. 23, 2022
By John LovettU of A System Division of Agriculture
Related PHOTOS: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjA7Rbn
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Without big bitter seeds to expel, the flavorful muscadine could
go from the front porch to the dinner table in America and beyond.
Fruit breeders with the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm
of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, are working on developing
a seedless muscadine that can be grown in Arkansas as part of their mission to build
up an Eastern table grape industry.
A muscadine with a texture that is more familiar to a wider audience – thinner skin
and firmer flesh – is also part of the refinement process to propel the folksy muscadine
to mass market appeal.
Muscadines were the center of attention on Monday, Sept. 19 at the experiment station’s
Fruit Research Station near Clarksville. Over 50 muscadine growers and potential growers
turned out for the annual Muscadine Grape Workshop and Field Day to hear updates on
the Arkansas muscadine breeding program and recommendations from researchers and industry
Margaret Worthington, associate professor of fruit breeding and genetics, has been
working to develop seedless Arkansas muscadine varieties in a Division of Agriculture
partnership with North Carolina-based seedless muscadine breeder Jeff Bloodworth and
Gardens Alive!, the Ohio-based gardening company. She has bred seedless varieties
for Arkansas growing conditions since 2017 at the Fruit Research Station.
While many have tried to breed a seedless muscadine over the years, Worthington said
Bloodworth was successful at crossing seedless Vitis vinifera grapes with muscadines to get a seedless grape with muscadine flavor and aroma characteristics.
Eleven seedless muscadine selections have advanced into growing trials at the Fruit
Research Station, Worthington said.
“The conventional wisdom was that nobody wanted foxy or muscat flavors in a table
grape,” Worthington said. “However, we can see products like Cotton Candy that are
sold at a huge premium compared to neutral sweet grapes and are wildly profitable.
I think it just turns that narrative on its head.”
Cotton Candy is a white table grape developed by International Fruit Genetics in partnership
with the Division of Agriculture using pollen from a grape developed by John R. Clark,
Distinguished Professor of horticulture, at the Fruit Research Station. Cotton Candy
grapes are grown by Grapery in California. Based on information from Jack Pandol of
Grapery, Worthington said consumers are not concerned about berry size, shape or color
as much as flavor and texture.
“This tells me that muscadine flavor is its strength,” Worthington said. “What is
a detriment might be the texture. To have a big product that sells to a wider audience
than just those of us who grew up with muscadines and love them, you need that flavor
in a texture that is a little bit more familiar to consumers.”
Over the past 15 years the experiment station’s muscadine breeding program has planted
over 20,000 seedlings leading to 342 selections. A group of advanced selections with
improved consumer quality and cold hardiness are now moving forward in the breeding
program, Worthington said.
Two new seeded Arkansas muscadine varieties are expected to be released to the public
in the fall of 2023. One is a sweet “fresh-market” variety for eating, and the other
is a “processing” grape intended for juices, wines, jellies and other products.
“Muscadine grapes are my favorite fruit, full stop,” Worthington said. “I think they
are a delicious fruit and I’m excited and passionate about the product and developing
it into something that is bigger than it is now.”
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture,
visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas,
contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: John LovettU of A System Division of AgricultureArkansas Agricultural Experiment Station(479) firstname.lastname@example.org