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New peaches milestone for UA

Two new peaches from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture make 40 varieties released from the Arkansas fruit breeding program since it began 40 years ago

White Rock and White County are white flesh, fresh market peaches, said John R. Clark, fruit breeder for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. Their names follow the pattern of the first Arkansas fresh market peach, White River, in recognizing Arkansas geography. The “White” in the names refers to their white flesh.

“White Rock is named for White Rock Mountain in northwest Arkansas,” Clark said. “White County comes from the north-central county that is one of the richest horticultural production areas in the state.”

Both peaches have low acidity, which makes them sweeter and a little easier on sensitive stomachs than typical peaches.

White Rock has a light white peach flavor, Clark said. It's a reliable producer of medium-sized cling peaches with firm flesh. It ripens early, around late June, and stays firm well into maturity.

White County is a freestone peach that ripens around mid-July and stays firm until fully mature. Its fruit is larger than White Rock and has a very good white peach flavor.

Both peaches are resistant to bacterial leaf spot, the most serious disease threatening Arkansas peaches, Clark said. A limited number of trees will be available from licensed propagators this winter.

James N. Moore established the fruit breeding program in 1964. Under his leadership and that of Clark, his successor, the Division of Agriculture has released three strawberries, 13 blackberries, seven grapes, three nectarines, one ornamental nectarine, three ornamental peaches, two blueberries, five processing peaches and three fresh market peaches.

“We started the program from scratch,” Moore said. “There was no breeding material to speak of in Arkansas, so we had to get it from wherever we could find it.”

Moore began searching for traits that could be adapted to Arkansas' unique growing climate. “Arkansas is in a transition zone where the growing conditions are different from those in the states north and south of us,” he said.

“One of the first and best crosses I made was a blackberry from Texas crossed with one from New York,” Moore said. “We got three Arkansas blackberries out of the cross, and those became the base from which even more varieties have been bred.”

The first fruits of the fledgling Arkansas breeding program came in 1974, Moore said. Cardinal strawberry came first, followed in the same year by two blackberries, Cherokee and Comanche, from the Texas-New York cross.

The Arkansas blackberry breeding program has grown into one of the largest and most respected in the world, Clark said. Among its accomplishments are some of the first erect-growing, thornless plants produced anywhere. The latest development is primocane-fruiting blackberries that grow a fall crop of berries on first-year canes.

“These are the most revolutionary things coming out of this program,” Moore said. “Their ability to produce fruit on new canes offers potential for growing blackberries in places where they couldn't be grown before.”

The idea for growing white-fleshed fresh market peaches in Arkansas began in the early days of the UA fruit program. Early emphasis was on yellow processing peaches for the canning industry and nectarines for fresh market, but Moore believed there was value in pursuing peaches for fresh markets.

“There was a lot of worldwide interest in white peaches in the 1960s,” Moore said. “They have a unique flavor that is very distinct from that of yellow peaches.”

White peaches have long been popular in Europe and are growing in popularity in the United States. Clark said adding white peaches to the UA varieties gives producers more options for fresh market production.

Giving producers options and variety in Arkansas-adapted fruit has long been the goal of the Division of Agriculture breeding program.

“Someone asked me early on what my goals were for the Arkansas breeding program,” Moore said. “I told him, ‘I want grapes without seeds, blackberries without thorns and peaches without fuzz.’ And we got all three of them.”

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