Monday, June 21, 2010

SweetTango is Strange Fruit

for Some Minnesota Orchardists

From Courthouse News Service:

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - Fourteen orchards and a dozen apple growers claim that the University of Minnesota's tight restrictions on growing and selling the SweetTango apple will drive them out of business, as older breeds are replaced by the new "breakthrough apple variety." The orchardists say the restrictions are particularly unfair as the UM used public money to develop the SweetTango.

In 2005, Pepin Heights Orchard, of Lake City, Minn., signed an exclusive license agreement to grow and sell SweetTangoes for the university.

The agreement restricted all other growers from planting more than 1,000 Minneiska trees, and barred them from pooling harvests and from selling to wholesalers.

"The Minnesota Apple Growers for Fair Trade are looking to level the playing field, preserve the mutually beneficial relationship with the University and its apple breeding program, and ensure that Minnesota consumers have access to the quality locally grown apple varieties at fair and competitive prices," the group wrote in a June 17 "Communication to All Apple Growers" posted on, a Twin cities-based food magazine.

The growers claim in the lawsuit that SweetTango is being marketed as the next great apple and is meant to replace the popular Honeycrisp.

If this comes to pass, the orchardists say, all Minnesota growers save Pepin Heights will be at a disadvantage.

The growers cite a 2009 marketing campaign launched by Pepin Heights and the university that called the SweetTango the "Honeycrisp killer," touting the new breed's superiority.

The group claims the agreement violates the land-grant university's policies on new inventions and technologies for the consumer market, which require the school to seek the greatest benefit for the university and taxpayers.

Pepin Heights did not return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The growers sued the university and several administrators, Pepin Heights and its president and vice-president, and David Bedford, an apple breeder at the university who developed the SweetTango and more than 27 other apple varieties.

The growers want the agreement voided and the university and Pepin Heights enjoined from limiting the production and sale of the SweetTango.

SweetTango will also be bitter fruit for the U of M whether the orchardists win or lose their case. How can the U claim to be acting in the best interests of ALL of the state orchardists when these actions may drive many of them out of business?


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