Take Action! Willamette Valley Canola Rule and Legislation

Canola’s flowers are pretty, but it endangers the Willamette Valley’s unique vegetable seed industry that farmers and gardeners worldwide depend on.

The harmful risk of unregulated oilseed canola production in the Willamette Valley is once again facing Oregon farmers and food consumers. Current rules that cap annual canola production at 500 acres in the Willamette Valley expire on July 1. Now, both the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Legislature are considering new measures to address the risks from canola production to the region’s world renowned specialty seed industry after July 1.

The Oregon Legislature is considering SB 885 (read FoFF’s testimony here), a bill that would maintain the current 500 acre per year cap. It has passed one key committee and is now awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee followed by votes in the Senate and House (take action below).

Meanwhile, the ODA has announced a proposed rule to replace current expiring canola restrictions. Unfortunately, ODA’s draft proposal simply falls short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry. ODA’s proposal includes no acreage cap, doesn’t explicitly prohibit canola production in a proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves large parts of the Willamette Valley unprotected.

Two actions you can take now to protect the Willamette Valley’s world class specialty seed industry

  1. Contact your State Legislators and urge them to vote ‘yes’ on SB 885. The Legislature could vote on this bill any day. Tell them that we need to pass SB 885 and maintain current restrictions on Willamette Valley canola production that expire July 1 in order to protect the region’s important specialty seed industry and the hundreds of farmers, gardeners, and food producers who depend on it.
  2. Submit written or email comments on the ODA canola rule by June 21 at 5pm. Comments can be short and we encourage you to include the following talking points:
    1. ODA’s draft proposal falls short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry. Tell them you oppose the draft rule because it includes no acreage cap, doesn’t prohibit canola inside the proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves many Willamette Valley farmers unprotected from the risks associated with canola.
    2. ODA’s final rule should include: an acreage cap not to exceed 500 acres per year inside the Willamette Valley Protected District; a clear prohibition on canola production inside the proposed Isolation Area; a larger Isolation Area where no production of canola would be allowed; clear protections for seed farmers outside the proposed Isolation Area; and, a clear prohibition on growing herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered varieties of canola.
    3. All comments on the canola rule must be received by 5pm, June 21 via email at ssummers@oda.state.or.us or by mail to: Sunny Summers, Oregon Department of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. NE, Salem, OR 97301.

You can find more background information on ODA’s canola (rapeseed) webpage, including a map of the proposed Willamette Valley isolation areas and protected district.

Thank you for taking action!

Background

The Willamette Valley is known worldwide for producing high quality vegetable and cover crop seed. Farmers and gardeners around the world rely on Willamette Valley seed producers to maintain a well-organized system of isolation distances and crop rotations to ensure seed purity so that the seeds you plant match the pictures on the seed packs you buy.

Many of the seeds grown in the Willamette Valley are food crops in the Brassica family like broccoli, kale, various cabbages, bok choi, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, and more. Canola (also called rapeseed) is in the same family, but is primarily grown for oil production, not for seed purity. Canola can also spread many of the same plant diseases that impact other Brassica crops. Internationally, in regions where commodity-scale canola production has taken hold, specialty seed production has declined or withered away.

Further, due to its ability to move away from fields where it was planted from one year to the next, canola can also contaminate a variety of cover crops grown for seed in the Willamette Valley, and can spread into public rights of way where it is difficult to control. Unlike other Brassicas, most of the commercially available canola varieties are genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance, making concerns over cross-pollination and weediness even more concerning for many farmers.

In the Willamette Valley, the specialty seed and cover crop seed industries consist of dozens of seed companies, and hundreds of farmers – both organic and conventional – whose seeds are sold locally and worldwide to farmers and gardeners alike. These industries now at risk from canola exceed well over $100 million in production value each year.

Because of canola’s well documented plant disease and cross-pollination issues, it has been heavily regulated in the Willamette Valley for decades, and was effectively banned completely for many years. Due to pressure to plant canola in the Willamette Valley for biofuels beginning in the mid-2000s, research was conducted to determine whether it could co-exist with other Brassica crops. In 2013, legislation was passed to allow 500 acres per year of canola for research purposes. By agreement, only non-GE varieties were grown during this time, and only in accordance with specialty seed isolation rules which require a 3 mile distance between fields of similar Brassica crops that can cross-pollinate. These limits on canola acreage and isolation distances expire July 1, 2019.

Ultimately, the research did not reveal any new information on canola that would suggest that it should be unregulated in the Willamette Valley. Further, the research did not address the unique risks and problems associated with growing genetically engineered or herbicide resistant varieties of canola. Following the research, recommendations from the Oregon Department of Agriculture on future management of canola included proposals like creating an Isolation Area where no canola would be allowed, to maintaining the status quo of capping annual acres at 500 while requiring mandatory isolation distances to protect specialty seed crops.

In response, the Legislature is now considering SB 885 to maintain the 500 acre cap on canola indefinitely, and ODA has proposed a new canola rule to replace the expiring rules as described above. The ODA Willamette Valley canola rule comment period ends June 21.

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