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UC Davis strawberry facts: FAQ

What is the UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program?

These strawberry seedlings are part of a low-elevation research trial.

The UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program is a research program housed in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Its goal is to develop new, commercially useful varieties of strawberry plants that have higher quality berries, are less vulnerable to pests and diseases and can be grown more efficiently. The University of California has been breeding strawberries since the 1930s and the program has been located at UC Davis since 1952.
What is the California Strawberry Commission?
The commission, headquartered in Watsonville, California, was established in 1993 by the California Legislature as an agency of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It is funded by taxes and assessments that strawberry growers, shippers and processors impose on themselves to finance research and projects related to strawberry production, marketing and trade, as well as nutrition, food safety and public policy. The commission is composed of 13 strawberry producers, five shippers, five processors and one member of the public.
What is California’s standing in the strawberry industry?
California is the dominant producer of both fresh and processed strawberries, providing more than 87 percent of the strawberries consumed in North America. Strawberry varieties developed at UC Davis produce about 60 percent of the strawberries consumed worldwide.
How many varieties have been developed by UC Davis strawberry breeders?

The Albion strawberry variety was developed at UC Davis and released in 2004.

The university currently holds patents on more than 30 strawberry varieties, all of which have been licensed to nurseries to commercialize and sell to strawberry growers. For the first two years after patenting, varieties from the program are available only to nurseries in California, giving growers in the state a competitive advantage.
How is the breeding and research program funded?
The program is funded primarily by revenue from licensing strawberry varieties. The amount of licensing revenue varies from year to year, but in fiscal year 2013 the University of California collected $5.9 million in gross licensing revenue on four of its patented strawberry varieties. After deduction of certain patent expenses, the remainder is shared between the inventors, the UC Office of the President and UC Davis, with some of the university funds going to support the program. During the past 10 years, the budget of the breeding program has ranged from approximately $1.5 million to $1.9 million annually. The California Strawberry Commission provided grants to the breeding program under research agreements in the amount of $350,000 per year until 2013.
Why did the California Strawberry Commission sue UC Davis?
The California Strawberry Commission filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the University of California on Oct. 8, 2013, in Alameda County Superior Court. The lawsuit claims that the university did not fulfill the terms of the research agreement between the commission and the university. The university maintains that the lawsuit is without merit and recently filed a counter-complaint to ensure proper legal review of the fact that UC is the sole owner of the strawberry varieties and germplasm collection.
Does this mean that the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program is ending?
No. UC Davis has an unwavering commitment to continue our strawberry-breeding program. The university has recently organized the strawberry germplasm collection and now has multiple copies of each plant in the collection. Interviews for a new strawberry breeder are ongoing as of November 2014.
Is UC Davis planning to “privatize” the strawberry breeding program, by handing it over to commercial breeders?

This strawberry was produced using controlled pollination.

No. No decisions have been made about future licensing, and we want to hear directly from strawberry growers about their priorities before making any decisions. California farmers pay lower rates than others for our strawberries because of our program and we are committed to ensure that our rates will remain highly competitive and attractive in the future. Our current licensing fee of 8 cents per plant that the contracting nurseries sell to growers is considerably lower than those of other university or commercial breeding programs. For example, the University of Florida charges a 12-cent licensing fee and many commercial breeders charge 20 cents or more.
Is the collection of plants in the strawberry breeding program collection at risk?

Strawberry seedlings are transplanted into small peat pots.

No. UC Davis recently organized and inventoried the entire collection of approximately 1,500 strawberry breeding plants — sometimes referred to as a germplasm collection — and made additional copies of each of the plants.
Can UC Davis strawberry breeders take the university’s breeding collection with them if they retire or leave the university?
No. All University of California employees sign a form at the time they are hired, agreeing that any inventions or discoveries that they make during their employment at the university belong to the university. The collection of strawberry breeding plants is the property of the University of California.
What will happen to the strawberry-breeding program when the current breeders leave the university?
The UC Davis Strawberry Breeding program will continue to serve California’s strawberry producers, shippers, processors and consumers, as it has done for more than 60 years. The program had been around before our most recent breeders arrived and will be around a long time after their retirements. We’ve had our industry pioneers retire before and the program has continued to thrive. The university is in the process of hiring a new strawberry breeder to join the program, and we will listen to farmers about their concerns before making any decisions.
What is the status of the new breeder search, as of Nov. 10, 2014?
UC Davis is in the process this fall of hiring a new breeder to lead the strawberry breeding program.
What are the current locations for the public breeding program?
Our locations are in the process of being consolidated in Watsonville and Santa Maria, California, both of which are productive strawberry growing regions.

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Last updated Nov. 13, 2014