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UC Davis strawberry facts: FAQ

Who is suing whom?
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. In response, UC Davis filed a “demurrer” on April 22, 2014, asking the judge to dismiss the case as being without merit.
What is the California Strawberry Commission?
The commission, headquartered in Watsonville, Calif., 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.
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. UC Davis has been breeding strawberries since the 1930s, and the breeding program is currently headed up by two plant breeders, both affiliated with the Department of Plant Sciences: Professor Doug Shaw at UC Davis and Cooperative Extension specialist Kirk Larson at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center.
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.
How much money has the California Strawberry Commission provided to the UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program to fund research?
The commission provided grants to the breeding program under research agreements in the amount of $350,000 per year until 2013.
What percentage of the breeding program’s annual costs did that money pay for?
During the past 10 years, the budget of the breeding program has ranged from approximately $1.5 million to $1.9 million annually.
How much money does UC Davis receive annually in strawberry licensing revenue, and how much of that has gone to the strawberry breeders personally?
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 the deduction of certain patent expenses, the breeders, as inventors, receive 35 to 50 percent of the net patent revenue on the new strawberry varieties they developed, and the remainder of the net patent revenue is shared by the UC Office of the President and UC Davis.
What did the California Strawberry Commission and the industry it represents receive through this research agreement?

This strawberry was produced using controlled pollination.

The commission and strawberry industry funded the development of new and better strawberry varieties, which could be licensed for commercialization and sale. During the first two years after the varieties are patented, they are made available for licensing only to nurseries in California, providing them with a “competitive advantage.” It also is noteworthy that there are many allied research projects conducted by UC Davis in the process of developing the new varieties, including studies dealing with plant diseases and pests, farming systems, economics, nutrition and sensory analysis.
Why did the California Strawberry Commission funding end in 2013?
The funding ended in early 2013 because the UC Davis strawberry breeders did not seek the funding from the commission.
Does this mean that the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program is ending?
No. The UC Davis strawberry-breeding program is extremely successful. The university recently organized and is managing a complete, second copy of each strawberry plant in the breeding program and is in the process of hiring a new breeder to join the program.
Is UC Davis planning to “privatize” the strawberry breeding program, by handing it over to commercial breeders?
No. There are no plans to privatize the strawberry-breeding program. The university intends it to continue as a public program, in which varieties developed at UC Davis are patented and then made available for licensing and commercialization. It is noteworthy that our 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 and 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 employee signs 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 if or when the current breeders leave the university?

Strawberry varieties are being grown here as part of a high-elevation research trial.

The UC Davis Strawberry Breeding program will continue to serve California’s strawberry producers, shippers, processors and consumers. UC Davis is in the process of hiring a new strawberry breeder to join the program. For this position, the university intends to hire an individual with advanced skills in the area of genomics, which will be usefully in more quickly identifying which genes are connected with desirable traits such as flavor, size, color, and disease- and pest-resistance. That would allow the program to use traditional breeding methods to develop improved strawberry varieties.
How did the university respond to the lawsuit?
On April 22, 2014, the university requested the judge dismiss the lawsuit, maintaining that the case is without merit.
How is the case progressing?
The case has not yet been heard. In late May, at the request of State Assemblyman Luis Alejo of the 30th State Assembly District, both the university and the strawberry commission agreed to enter formal mediation, to resolve issues related to the future of the UC Davis strawberry breeding program. One mediation meeting, presided over by retired judge William Cahill, has been held, and a second meeting is scheduled for August.
How does mediation impact the lawsuit?
It is hoped that mediation will lead to a resolution that is acceptable to both UC Davis and the California Strawberry Commission, in which case the commission would drop the suit in view of the commitments the university has agreed to make to the strawberry industry — such as continuing the public breeding program and keeping the royalty rates low.

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Last updated Aug. 18, 2014