Strawberry Breeding Program Backgrounder: A Historical Timeline

Male student examines large-leafed strawberry plants in a campus greenhouse
Scott Malain, an undergraduate plant sciences student, examines and prunes strawberry plants that are part of the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • Breeding program started at UC Berkeley in late 1920s
  • Revived in 1952 at UC Davis after WWII hiatus
  • Program honored by Spain in 1999 for 50 years of strawberry breeding

The University of California strawberry breeding program began at UC Berkeley, led by plant pathologist Harold E. Thomas and breeder Earl V. Goldsmith.  Thomas, who would become known as the “father of the California strawberry industry,” joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1927 and in 1934 began working with Goldsmith, who had been foreman of the UC Deciduous Fruit Field Station at Santa Clara.

During World War II, the strawberry breeding program was not deemed a priority and was closed by the university. Ironically, the program was just then hitting its stride, in 1945 releasing five new strawberry varieties: the Shasta, Lassen, Sierra, Tahoe and Donner.  That same year, Harold Thomas left the University of California to head the newly formed Strawberry Institute of California, which would later merge with Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.

In 1952, the University of California revived the strawberry program – but this time located it at UC Davis.  And the rest is history…

1953               Pomology Professor Royce Bringhurst arrived at UC Davis and teamed up with UC Cooperative Extension pomologist Victor Voth, who had joined UC Davis as a strawberry researcher in 1946 in its then Department of Pomology.

1956               Strawberry breeder Victor Voth transferred from UC Davis to the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine, California.

1964               The Tioga variety, developed at UC Davis, was released. During the late 1960s and ‘70s, it would make up more than half of California’s strawberry plantings.

1972               The Tufts variety, developed at UC Davis, was released

1979               The Pajaro variety, developed at UC Davis, was released.

1983               The Selva and Chandler varieties, developed at UC Davis, were released.

1986               Plant scientist Doug Shaw joined the faculty in the UC Davis Department of Pomology.

1989               Royce Bringhurst, known to many on and off campus as “Mr. Strawberry,” retired from UC Davis.

1991               Strawberry breeder Victor Voth retired from UC Davis.

1991               Kirk Larson  joined UC Davis in the Department of Pomology as a pomologist and UC Cooperative Extension faculty.

1992               The Camarosa variety, developed at UC Davis, was released.

1997               The Diamante variety, developed at UC Davis, was released.

1999               UC Davis received the “Fresca de Oro,” – Golden Strawberry – Award from the Spanish province of Huelva, recognizing 50 years of research that revolutionized strawberry growing and invigorated the economy in southwestern Spain. 

2004               The UC Davis Department of Pomology merged with three other units to form the Department of Plant Sciences.

2004               The Albion variety, developed at UC Davis, was released.

2008               The San Andreas variety, developed at UC Davis, was released.

2013               Funding from the California Strawberry Commission to UC Davis ended because UC Davis strawberry breeders did not seek the funding from the commission.

2013               On Oct. 8, the California Strawberry Commission filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the University of California in Alameda County Superior Court.

2014               UC Davis inventoried and organized the entire collection of approximately 1,500 strawberry breeding plants, making additional copies of each plant.

2014               On April 14, UC Davis filed a “demurrer,” asking the judge to dismiss the strawberry commission’s lawsuit, maintaining that the case was without merit.

2014               In late May, at the request of California State Assemblyman Luis Alejo of the 30th State Assembly District, both the university and the strawberry commission agreed to enter formal mediation. 

2015               On Feb. 9, UC Davis and the California Strawberry Commission signed an agreement that included a renewed commitment to a public strawberry breeding program, and UC Davis announced the hiring of plant scientist Steven J. Knapp as the new breeder for the Strawberry Breeding Program.

2015               In June, following a six-month review of the UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program, the California state auditor’s office released recommendations — including suggestions for future funding and revenue collection — for the acclaimed program.

2016               On May 3, UC Davis announced progress made by the Strawberry Breeding Program, including launch of a large-scale genetic disease-resistance experiment on campus, addition of an educational program for graduate students, hiring of a new staff researcher, and planting of strawberry-yield trials on five farms from Ventura to Watsonville. It also committed to maintaining the germplasm as a public collection within the breeding program, rather than licensing the research plant collection exclusively to any individual or company.

2016               On May 3, California Berry Cultivars LLC, a strawberry breeding company launched by retired UC Davis strawberry breeders Doug Shaw and Kirk Larson, and their business partners, announced that they had filed a lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California, charging the university with “breach of contract, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unfair competition.”

2016               On May 6, to ensure that the Strawberry Breeding Program remains a vital public asset for the benefit of California’s strawberry industry, the University of California filed a cross-complaint against California Berry Cultivars LLC and the former UC Davis strawberry breeders for patent infringement and breach of contract, among other claims.

2017             On May 24, a federal jury in San Francisco ruled in favor of the University of California in its lawsuit with the two former UC Davis strawberry breeders and the private breeding company they created with UC-owned plants. The case will return to federal court on May 31, when the judge will consider issues related to legal remedies that were not for the jury to decide.

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