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Friday, July 30, 2021

California Strawberry Commission sues UC Davis

The California Strawberry Commission (CSC) filed a lawsuit against UC Davis in fall 2013 with the belief that UC Davis has intentions of ending its strawberry breeding program.

The strawberry breeding program is a program that has, for decades, researched and developed new varieties of strawberries. Because of its existence, California strawberry growers can buy their plants directly from the University rather than buying plants from private breeding programs, which have much higher royalty rates.

According to Carolyn O’Donnell, the communications director for the CSC, concern for the continuation of the breeding program arose as the professors who work for the program, Douglas Shaw and Kirk Larson, approached retirement.

“In 2012, they let us know that they were not going to continue renewing the contract we have with them on an annual basis for the breeding program, that would also terminate the royalty discount the strawberry growers were getting, and that they weren’t planning on continuing the program,” O’Donnell said.

Following this news, the CSC filed a lawsuit in hopes that UC Davis would reconsider their statement, and would both continue the program and keep the program public.

“Having a public breeding program enables anyone who wants to start growing strawberries commercially, to have access to the varieties that were developed by the University of California, Davis,” O’Donnell said.

Many immigrant families have come to realize the ‘American dream’ in California through growing strawberries commercially, according to O’Donnell. She said she fears that this will no longer be a viable option if the royalties on strawberry plants increase.

Additionally, the CSC has helped to fund the strawberry breeding program since 1955. According to a letter from Assemblymember Luis Alejo to Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi, which was signed by several other California assembly members and senators, the CSC spent $20 million on the program since the CSC’s partnership with the strawberry breeding program. The same letter also stated that over $100 million in royalties have been paid to the University through the program.

“ANR [the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources] informed the Commission that it planned to terminate the Program and enter into a licensing agreement with the Program strawberry breeders who intend to appropriate publicly funded research for use in a private company they were forming,” Alejo said in the letter.

Katehi said UC Davis has no plans to terminate the strawberry breeding program.

“As we have repeatedly articulated throughout our ongoing discussions with the CSC and other external parties, the University remains fully committed to continuation of a public strawberry breeding program for the benefit of both the strawberry industry as well as the general public,” Katehi said in response to the letter.

Katehi further mentioned that she is disappointed in the CSC’s decision to continue the litigation against UC Davis.

On April 23, 12 days after Katehi responded to Alejo’s letter, UC Davis filed a motion that the CSC’s lawsuit against the University be dismissed according to a press release issued by UC Davis.

Professor Mary Delany, associate dean of agriculture and environmental sciences, said that she believes the misconception that the University is terminating the program stems from the interest of both Shaw and Larson to retire.

Additionally, the program is currently searching for a new breeder/geneticist to take the place of Shaw and Larson when they do decide to leave.

Delany said that the CSC’s financial relationship with the breeding program was born from the program’s desire to raise royalties for the strawberry plants that it produced. The commission agreed in lieu of raising the royalties they decided to backfill the cost through research agreements.

“We are looking forward to an updated version of our program, we’re looking at the program carefully deciding in the future what is best and to continue to do what we’re doing but do it in a better and more efficient manner,” Delany said.

Delany confirmed that UC Davis is in discussion with the CSC and is working to resolve the issues between them, and that UC Davis does not have intentions of ending the breeding program.

SYDNEY COHEN can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

 

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