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Viticulturist Justin Morris Dies in Arkansas

UA professor promoted vineyard mechanization and grape quality, influenced students, growers

by Linda Jones McKee
The collaboration of Justin Morris (left) and Tom Oldridge resulted in the development of more than 40 different machines and attachments to replace hand labor.
Fayetteville, Ark.—Justin R. Morris, distinguished professor emeritus of the Institute of Food Science and Engineering at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville died May 19 at age 77. Morris, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas, earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1964. He returned to the University of Arkansas and began to research the production, harvesting and processing systems for different fruits—especially wine grapes.

Morris’ work on vineyard mechanization started in 1966 and was based on concerns about the cost of vineyard labor and the potential shortage of a reliable supply of vineyard workers. Initial research involved the development of the grape harvester, along with research into trellis systems that would accommodate them and into the effects of mechanical harvesting on grape and wine quality. Balanced cropping was the next vineyard process to be addressed, and research about the mechanization of pruning, shoot-thinning and fruit-thinning followed.

In his book, Vineyard Mechanization: Development and Status in the United States and in Major Grape Producing Regions of the World, Morris stated his vision for mechanization: “As the vineyard activities related to harvest and achieving balanced cropping became mechanized, it was realized that commercial prosperity of the grape industry would eventually rely heavily on complete systems of vineyard mechanization. Such systems would include mechanization of shoot and fruit thinning, summer and winter pruning, shoot positioning, cordon and trunk scrubbing, leaf removal, canopy management and harvesting. Further, it was recognized that these mechanized operations must not cause excessive damage to the vines or reduce fruit yield and/or quality while, at the same time, reducing cost.”

This research, done in cooperation with Tom Oldridge, a grapegrower and inventor from Lowell, Ark., resulted in the development of more than 40 different machines and attachments to mechanize vineyard operations that previously had required hand labor. The system was tested at various locations including the University of California, Fresno, and in the Central Coast region. In 2002, the University of Arkansas received a patent for the Morris-Oldridge System for Complete Vineyard Mechanization. Oxbo International Corp. in Clear Lake, Wis., was then licensed to manufacture and market the system that became known as the Oxbo Vineyard Mechanization System.

During his years at the University of Arkansas, Morris helped to develop the university’s Institute of Food Science and Engineering and became its director in 1995. His work with the juice industry resulted in developing new juice products made from grape and fruit blends. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau recognized Morris’ contributions to the grape and wine industry when they nominated him to the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2008 and stated, “The Arkansas juice industry will forever be indebted to Morris for his research that has allowed it to remain nationally competitive. His efforts have helped double juice grape production without any loss in quality.”

Morris also served for more than 30 years as the executive vice president of the Ozark Food Processors Association, an organization representing 90 food processing companies and suppliers in 35 states.

One of Morris’ former students, Dr. R. Keith Striegler, previously director of the Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology at the University of Missouri and now the proprietor of Flint Ridge Winegrowing Services in Fayetteville, Ark., told Wines & Vines that Morris had a major impact on the wine and grape industry not only in Arkansas but in the entire lower Midwest part of the United States. “Justin taught a lengthy list of students about viticulture, conducted workshops in many places, visited growers. Much of the growth of the wine industry—especially in Arkansas and Missouri—can be attributed to him. His importance to the industry is apparent when you realize he was recognized for excellence in three areas in which he worked by three major organizations: He received the Award of Merit from the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, was a Fellow in the American Society for Horticultural Science, and a Fellow in the Institute of Food Technology.”

Striegler continued, “Morris’ biggest impact was on people’s lives: the students he taught, plus people in the industry.” Many of those students currently are working in the grape, wine and food-processing industries. Morris’ legacy also includes more than 410 research and trade articles, 30 book chapters and two books.

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