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Relations sour between berry growers, university

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California

DAVIS, Calif. (AP) — Things are souring between California's strawberry growers and the University of California, Davis.

Growers worry a university breeding program they have long relied on for new varieties will shut down, The Sacramento Bee reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1oRb0IA ).

Strawberry varieties developed by UC Davis represent just over half of California's crop. The state's $2 billion-a-year strawberry industry produces 90 percent of the nation's supply.

Now, the university's two strawberry breeders plan to leave and form their own company.

An association representing growers, which for decades has funded research at UC Davis, filed a lawsuit that alleged the university plans to abandon its plant-breeding program. The California Strawberry Commission's lawsuit claims the university is letting the breeders "privatize" their publicly funded research and walk away with important trade secrets — namely, a priceless collection of strawberry plants that is the heart of the breeding program.

"We want the university to have the most successful strawberry breeding program in the world. We've been paying for it for the last half-century and we want to continue investing," said commission president Rick Tomlinson.

UC officials want the complaint dismissed, saying the breeding program will continue. They said they have repeatedly told the growers association that the two scientists will be replaced and the plant collection isn't going anywhere.

"I don't know why they don't have confidence in us," said Mary Delany, associate dean at UC Davis' College of Agricultural and Environmental Science.

Tomlinson said he's encouraged by the university's pledge to keep the program going, but for the time being, the commission isn't making $350,000 annual research payments to the program.

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