A SweeTango for the U

The U has a hard case to make about its new apple and “public interest.”

When asked about the University of Minnesota’s exclusive contract with Pepin Heights Orchard for the distribution of the newly developed SweeTango apple, University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg replied that this deal “best serves the University and the public interest.”
The contract certainly protects the University’s investment in the SweeTango apple, and putting distribution in one set of hands makes good business sense. Among other things, it ensures the uniform quality of the apple as it is mass produced for the first time. This is an especially important consideration after the University released the Honeycrisp apple in the late 1990s. In that case, it spread production to too many orchards, which resulted in many Honeycrisp apples being poorly grown and hurting the brand’s quality and reputation.
The other half of Rotenberg’s claim, saying this exclusive distribution contract serves the public interest, is a much harder case to make. The University is required by the law that established the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station to “promote a sound and prosperous agriculture” by conducting experiments which contribute to a “permanent and effective agricultural industry.” In the case of the SweeTango apple, the University is not serving these larger public interests. With the desire for profit and memories of past mistakes in mind, the University is forgetting its mission to support the larger Minnesota agricultural community. Other Minnesota orchards should be allowed to distribute the SweeTango apple because one single orchard should not be able to reap exclusive benefit of a product developed by a university whose mission is research for the public good.