|Vol. III, No. 3, Winter 1990|
OZW: What are the primary small fruit crops of the Ozarks today?
MOORE: In terms of acreage, grapes would be first, strawberries second, blueberries third, and the brambles (blackberries and raspberries) fourth. Blueberries is a crop that is definitely increasing in acreage, because of its high profitability. Fifteen years ago blueberries were practically unheard of except for the wild species that we call huckleberries. Now there are probably around 250 acres of blueberries in southern Missouri, and northwestern Arkansas is up to well over 600 acres. This is a crop where there is a very high return per acre.
OZW: And what about tree fruits?
MOORE: Tree fruits -- especially apples, peaches, pears, and plums -- have been really important in the history of the Ozarks area. The apple industry really came into prominence around the turn of the century here in the Ozarks. This is one of the reasons why the Station was built here. The whole region was an apple producing area, although they also grew quite a few peaches, especially down around West Plains. This Station was created as a result of the demand for information on how to grow these crops better. My understanding of the reason Mountain Grove was selected as a site was because people in this area offered the land free if they would locate the Station here.
OZW: Is the Ozarks climate and soil well suited for fruit production?
MOORE: Our climate is good because we have a fairly long growing season, and the elevation of the Ozarks is high enough that we have cooler summer nights than are found further south. The cool nights of the Ozarks help build up higher quantities of sugars and flavor compounds which makes the Ozarks fruit a bit higher in quality.
OZW: O. K. The climate is good. But what about our soil? MOORE: For most fruit crops there are actually better suited soil types found in other places in the United States. In many areas the soil is rocky and eroded. The soil that is left is rather shallow and a lot of times there is a fragipan underlay-ment which limits root development. Also this layer is so impermeable for the root system that it accentuates drought stress in fruit plants. Top soil dries out and although there may be moist soil below the fragipan the roots can't get there.
However, apples and grapes seem to be able to grow very well in this type of soil without irrigation. With irrigation we can grow any of the fruit crops very well.
And we have done some things to modify the soil situation in the Ozarks which actually enhances plant growth and production. A good example is with blueberries. One of the things we are recommending the growers do is to go in and actually form ridges on which to plant the blueberries. This means that certain soil that you are breaking up forms the ridge and increases the depth of the topsoil. The other thing that it does is eliminates the problem of roots being in soil that is saturated with water during really wet periods when the water percolates very slowly because of the fragipan layer in the soil. We also recommend mulching the plants on top of the ridge with either bark chips or sawdust. This helps provide a much better environment for plant growth and production of blueberries.
OZW: Suppose I'm growing grapes, or strawberries, or blueberries. How would I go about marketing them?
MOORE: Different fruits are marketed in different ways. For example, grapes are marketed primarily to people who process them into juice and into wine. Most of the grapes that are going into juice are actually marketed to the Welsh Company. They have a terminal in Springdale, Arkansas where they collect the grapes from the Ozarks and press them into juice which is shipped to Michigan for processing into the bottled product.
Maybe ten percent of the grapes are sold at roadside stands, like those along 1-44 at St. James and Rosati, although some are now being packed and shipped to metropolitan areas. This is something new as far as Concords go.
We have around 30 commercial wine producers in Missouri now and these wineries take care of a large portion of the wine grapes grown in Missouri. Several years back a lot of these grapes were shipped out of the state to Ohio, but now we have a rebirth of the wine industry and the situation has changed.
OZW: What about marketing other small fruit? MOORE' Blueberries are sold primarily through "pick-your-own" operations. There are several plantings around the Springfield area where the customer pays to come out and pick his own fruit. In northern Arkansas the "pick-your-own" market has been sort of saturated and the acreage is such now that they are marketing the fresh fruit wholesale and shipping it to metropolitan areas as far away as Dallas and Denver, although some goes to St. Louis and Kansas City.
At one time a lot of strawberries were picked and sold wholesale, but now it is mostly a "pick-your-own" operation. Almost every small town in the Ozarks has one or two "pick-your-own" plantings close by. We figure there are around a thousand acres of strawberries altogether in Missouri, but in the Ozarks probably the largest plantings are five to six acres.
OZW: What kind of help can a fruit grower get from you folks at the State Fruit Experiment Station?
MOORE: Information about how to grow fruit and what varieties to grow and what the marketing prospects are for a person wanting to grow fruit. We generate this knowledge through research that is done here, as well as through library research and contact with other experiment stations.
We have been fortunate in being able to get some sizeable grants to help fund grape research here at the Station. Even though the program has been going for a relatively short time we have seen some significant progress. We think that we can make a real impact on the grape industry in the state.
OZW: The Station has developed new strains of fruit, I believe?
MOORE' This is true. We have over the years developed 41 new varieties of fruit, including apples, peaches, grapes, one raspberry variety, and several plum varieties.
OZW: Would I recognize any of these by name? MOORE: Certainly the Loring peach is well known commercially. Earliblue plum and Ozark Premier plum are well know plum varieties. Our best known apple variety, which is actually planted around the world, is the Ozark Gold.
OZW: Including the Ozarks?
MOORE' We really have very little commercial planting of them here. There is some planting of them along the Missouri River. Some in Washington, Oregon, Australia, France, and South Africa.
OZW: And the obligatory concluding question. What is the outlook for the fruit industry in the Ozarks?
Moore: There has been a real change in attitude toward fruit in the last few years. More people are beginning to realize the beneficial health effects of the consumption of fruit, and we have seen fruit prices increase at the marketplace because there is demand associated with its being a health food.
With a re-emergence of the fruit industry in the Ozarks we are looking forward to a really bright future.
The State Fruit
The State Fruit Experiment Station was established by act of the legislature in 1899. Until 1974 it operated as a state agency under a board of trustees appointed by the Governor. In 1974 administrative responsibility for the Station was given to Southwest Missouri State University, where the Station has departmental status in the College of Health and Applied Science.
Research is conducted in pomology, enology, vitaculture, plant pathology, entomology, tissue culture, and plant physiology. The Station investigates a number of fruit crops, but has a particular interest in grapes and blueberries. Information from this research is disseminated to fruit growers and processors throughout Missouri.
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