A bill backed by Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, that would ban commercial canola production in the Willamette Valley for five years isn’t perfect.
But the measure should help to protect an increasingly important mid-valley industry and give us some time to sort through some of the implications of planting canola here.
We fret any time we tell farmers that they can’t plant a legal crop on their lands. And some grass seed farmers favor canola as a rotation crop that also can produce income. The seeds can be crushed for making cooking oil or biodiesel.
But the Willamette Valley has a worldwide reputation for producing high-quality vegetable and flower seeds, and specialty seed growers reacted with dismay this spring when the Oregon Department of Agriculture lifted a longtime ban on planting canola in the region.
Here’s the problem, and it’s potentially a huge problem: Canola can readily cross-pollinate many of the crops grown by specialty producers, including radish, cabbage, mustard, broccoli and chard, contaminating their seed lots and threatening their livelihoods.
And we’re not taking chump change, either: Estimates are that the specialty seed industry is a $32 million business in the mid-valley. Anything that threatens seed purity threatens that business.
So House Bill 2427, the measure approved last week by the Legislature, makes it illegal to plant commercial quantities of canola anywhere in the valley until 2019, when the measure will sunset unless extended by the Legislature.
At the same time, the law appropriates $700,000 for a study by Oregon State University researchers to determine the compatibility of canola and other members of the brassica family with established Willamette Valley seed crops.
OSU researchers will be allowed to plant up to 500 acres of canola each year in the valley as part of the study.
It seems like a reasonable compromise – one that protects the specialty seed business, which potentially could be ruined by canola cross-pollination, while also allowing researchers time to study canola options. The five-year window ensures that we’ll come back to this issue, likely armed with better information, courtesy of the OSU study.
The measure also sidelines the state Department of Agriculture’s rule-making process to lift the canola ban – a process that proceeded with unnecessary haste, especially since it look place in the shadow of impending legislative action.
Now, the Legislature has acted. Gov. John Kitzhaber should sign the bill. (mm)