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Oregon Splits Willamette Valley Between Canola and Seeds

The West often gets divided up: cowboys vs. Indians, wet vs. dry, Catholics vs. Protestants and cattle vs. sheep, just to name a few. Now Oregon vs. Canola has been added to that list.

And while some say that the new maps that take effect Friday open Oregon to genetically modified canola, others say that is not necessarily so.

A great swath down the middle of Oregon’s Willamette Valley — some 2 million acres — is being made off-limits to canola producers in order to protect the state’s $32 million specialty seed industry.

At stake is their credibility as providers of quality seeds for fresh vegetable growers worldwide, say the state’s seed growers. Oregon has long been known for those seeds, and purity is a top grower concern.

Beginning August 10, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is making more than half of the Willamette Valley’s 3.7 million acres unavailable to all canola to protect specialty seeds from potential cross contamination, disease and pests.

The Willamette Valley encompasses inland northwest Oregon, a broad, flat and fertile drainage basis stretching from Portland to Eugene with the state’s most productive agricultural land.  It enjoys a Mediterranean-like climate with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers.

Canola was originally grown only from conventional plant breeding from rapeseed. It produces edible oil that can also be used in biodiesel. Canola is planted and harvested with farm equipment used for grasses and grains common the Willamette Valley and it does not require irrigation.

Under the new boundary decision, ODA said about 480,000 acres in the remaining 1.7 million acres might be suitable for canola production. Locals say most of the acreage is around the edges of the valley.

Organic canola can be grown in rotation with clover, grass seed, and other specialty seeds. Finland, New Zealand, and southern France all include canola in such a rotation “with no issues,” says Tomas Endicott, spokesman for the Willamette Oilseed Producers Association.

Oregon said the “control boundaries” are an attempt to “balance the interests of both canola and specialty seed producers recognizing both interests are important.”

Oregon’s Friends of Family Farmers issued a statement saying opening the valley to canola is not a good idea — be it GM or non-GM.

“ODA will not be drawing any distinctions between planting GM canola or non-GM canola,” said the organization in a statement. “Some proponents of canola in the valley have said that they aren’t interested in GM canola, or that they want organic canola, but without any controls in place, one planting of GM canola will be all that it takes to ruin the viability of the specialty seed growers. These growers use an open-pollination technique that is highly susceptible to contamination.”

Endicott says the family farmers group fails to acknowledge that non-GMO canola was successfully grown at several commercial sites in the Willamette Valley in 2007-08, and grown successfully around Banks for the past three years “with no known noticeable effect.”

During the time Oregon has largely held off canola, organic canola has been overwhelmed by GM canola. Friends of Family Farmers say 90 percent of canola is now GM.

As of last year, the Canola Council of Canada reported that 82 percent of rapeseed crops planted in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan are GM herbicide-tolerant canola.

ODA Director Katy Coba said both the specialty seed growers and potential canola growers wanted the state to act so planting decisions could be made by Sept. 1st.  She also says the rule itself does not address genetically modified canola, but it a deregulated crop under USDA so ODA does not treat it any differently than conventional canola.

The action was taken as a “temporary rule” that will be made permanent before it expires in 180 days under ODA’s authority to control menaces like diseases, insects, animals, and noxious weeds.

Oregon already uses an electronic “pinning” system for specialty seed crops to keep three mile separation enforce to prevent cross contamination.

© Food Safety News
  • Hank

    “Canola is planted and harvested with farm equipment used for grasses and grains common [in] the Willamette Valley and it does not require irrigation.”
    And “Friends of Family Farmers” (a group composed of neither family farmers nor of friends) objects to canola because, uh well, uhmmm, well because it is so well suited to farming in the valley. The farmers won’t have to work hard enough and they won’t have to buy a bunch of expensive new equipment to grow and harvest canola and they won’t need to suck water out of any reserves to do it. And that, my fellow faux-friends, flies in the very face of our sacred delusional stereotype of who and what the struggling family farmer is. This proposed absence of struggle is intolerable, an abomination, it cannot stand, it must not!!
    Besides, simply because these professional farmers are expert experienced seed growers is no reason they cannot be told how to farm by a group of stylishly phobic urban elitist busybody “friends” who, in every case, know more about everything than anyone. It is a proud and undeniable fact many of the extremist “friends” are older folks who have watched nearly every episode of Green Acres starring Eddy Albert and Eva Gabor — their vast expertise must be respected. In a pinch they can always call in Mr. Kimball.
    With meddling friends like that, you don’t need…uh, well it isn’t a need so much as a want…or, is it a need…if friends insist it’s a need…uh, well not friends, exactly…more like demagogues…well, anyway, with autocratic friends like that, you don’t need…oh, well, you know…uh, what was the trumped-up complaint about canola, again?

  • Eric

    This issue has nothing to do with Friends of Family Farmers, it has everything to do with the fact that the entire Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, a $30 million a year industry, is against Canola being grown in the valley. As soon as canola is planted, seed growers here will lose overseas customers, bottom line. it is not worth it to risk a booming specialty seed industry to accommodate the wishes of a handful of grass farmers looking for a profitable rotation. There are other alternatives that will not ruin an established industry.

  • Felix

    This ruinous, top-down, fast-tracked decision (or rather, edict) was just made without public or specialty seed industry input by the Oregon Dept of Agriculture. It summarily removes a long-time, widely-supported canola exclusion zone that was put in place to protect the integrity of seed crop relatives and the nation’s specialty crop seed supply. The fingerprints of the Farm Bureau and Biotech special interests are all over it.
    Out of the blue last week, the Department issued a press release informing the public that it will grant a temporary rule to allow canola production — just in time for fall planting. Conveniently, a temporary rule means the agency doesn’t have to collect public comments. The zone in the famous Willamette Valley seed growing area will be changed to allow canola (including genetically engineered canola) to be grown in the valley unchecked and with disregard to existing seed isolation guidelines.
    Canola is a brassica. Oregon State University and other agricultural research institutions have conducted research proving that canola easily cross-pollinates with a long list of healthful brassica family crops — including turnips, broccoli raab, some kales, rutabaga, and possibly radish and broccoli.
    By going ahead and allowing planting this fall — and thereby by-passing any public and seed industry input input –this shameful Department edict stands to destroy the integrity of an important sector of our nation’s seed — and food –supply. It’s already obvious, however, that the Oregon Dept of Agriculture has compromised and lost their own integrity in the process.