Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Strawberry Industry Seems to Be Giving UC-Davis the Raspberry

I haven't figured out the lesson to be learned from this issue.  (Maybe someone at Davis can help us out.)

On an ocean-facing hillside with stunning views of Monterey Bay, Douglas Shaw circulates among thousands of strawberry plants he has helped to breed and grow. But the man who is considered California's most esteemed strawberry expert declines to choose his all-time favorite.
The UC Davis plant sciences professor is a bit like a father unwilling to favor one child above his others — patented strawberry varieties with names such as Albion, Benicia, Portola, Monterey and San Andreas. He's also an unsentimental scientist with an eye toward hardier and tastier descendants...

Across town, the quasi-governmental California Strawberry Commission has its headquarters in an office suite decorated with photos of strawberry baskets and harvests and a floor rug in the shape of a berry. At the office entrance, as if emphasizing the connection to the world of fields and supermarkets, a white board lists temperatures throughout the state, prices and production statistics... The stakes are substantial as the dispute unfolds beyond the fields of leafy plants that sprout delicate white blossoms and red fruit.  For universities, it spotlights their role in the nation's agribusiness and the rights to intellectual property that, in this case, just happens to be edible. And for California farmers, it could mean the end of easy access to the sweetest strawberries that best survive the journeys from field to warehouse to kitchen tables.  

The whole thing was set into motion when the 60-year-old Shaw, after nearly three decades at the university, said he and his research partner, UC breeding expert Kirk Larson, planned to leave UC and start a private company for strawberry crop development.  Asserting that UC was no longer interested in their work, he also said they wanted to take a share of a valuable UC inventory of strawberry specimens dating back to the 1930s...

For many years, the commission helped fund the UC research to the tune of $350,000 annually. In a related deal, strawberry nurseries throughout the state got discounts on the royalties they paid to grow and sell the UC varieties. The lawsuit alleges that the end of both arrangements two years ago was a breach of contract.  The suit also claims the university is not properly safeguarding the so-called germplasm, a living museum of 1,600 strawberry types sustained over decades of careful reproduction, plantings and refrigeration at UC's farm properties in Davis, Watsonville and Irvine. UC is ceding control to Shaw and Larson "in a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse," the lawsuit says...

Accusing the commission of spreading alarmist and false information, the university says its staff has cultivated and will protect extra copies of all strawberry specimens in the inventory.  "This breeding program is really important to the university, this state and worldwide," said Jacob Appelsmith, UC Davis' chief counsel. [Blog editor's note: Maybe someone with a different name would have been better!] "For whatever reasons, there has been some anxiety given that these breeders are retiring. But we are doing everything we can to expand and improve it." ...

Full story at

OK.  Can someone help us out with this story?

Will the litigation go on forever?

YouTube - The Beatles - Strawberry Fields... by heatrash

We thank Hieronymus Bosch for his illustrations.

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