Canola in the Willamette Valley
August 2013 Update – Legislature Extends Prohibition on Unrestricted Canola Production in the Willamette Valley until 2019:
Late in the 2013 Oregon Legislative Session, after multiple public hearings, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 2427 with bipartisan support. The bill maintains an existing ban commercial production of canola until 2019 inside the 3 million acre Willamette Valley Protected District in order to protect one of the world’s preeminent vegetable seed producing regions, an effort widely supported by family farmers across the Willamette Valley.
The bill, which passed the Senate 18-12 after passing the Oregon House 37-22, replaces a policy adopted by the Oregon Department of Agriculture in February 2013 (see below for background) that would have allowed 25,000 acres of canola to be planted over the next decade in a region where the production of the plant for its seed has been administratively banned since 2005, and hasn’t occurred in decades. The bill retains canola restrictions established by Oregon Department of Agriculture in the Willamette Valley Protected District since 2009, while authorizing limited canola research under the oversight of Oregon State University for three years.
The Capital Press highlighted the issue in an article recapping the 2013 legislative session.
On August 14, 2013 Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed HB 2427 into law.
Background on Canola in the Willamette Valley:
Canola is the trade name for rapeseed, a plant in the Brassica family of vegetables. It can be used as fodder for animals or grown for seed and then crushed into oil for bio-fuels or refined further for edible cooking oil.Unfortunately, rapeseed is a also very promiscuous open-pollenated plant that readily outcrosses with many other Brassica species, including vegetables grown for seed in the Willamette Valley like cabbage, broccoli, kale, and others. Canola can also spread serious plant diseases and pests to fresh market vegetable and organic crops, which make up significant agricultural production in the Willamette Valley. Further, canola can also cross with wild mustard and other Brassica weeds that are well established in the Willamette Valley. Because the vast majority of canola now grown in the US is genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate herbicide, planting canola in the Willamette Valley poses a significant risk for establishing herbicide resistant weed populations in the Willamette Valley. Canola seed pods are also extremely prone to shatter, allowing this plan to persist in and near fields where it has been previously grown, or along roadsides where seed is spilled when transported, making unintentional and unwanted volunteers very difficult to control.
Because of the plant pest and disease risks that canola could bring to the Willamette Valley and other important agricultural regions in Oregon, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has maintained long-standing ‘control areas’ to restrict canola or prevent it from being produced. Despite this, canola can be grown in many locations in Oregon without presenting economic risks to the Willamette Valley specialty seed, fresh market vegetable, clover and cover crop seed, and organic industries.
In mid-2012, ODA began to try and change the rules governing the control area that protects the Willamete Valley’s specialty seed, fresh market vegetable, organic and other industries from canola. This startling change in policy in order to allow large-scale canola production in Willamette Valley put at risk one of the few places left in the world where quality specialty seeds can be grown. While many Willamette Valley conventional grass seed farmers are looking for winter rotation crops to break up pest and disease cycles and some believe canola is their only option, there are several alternative crops these farmers are and could be growing like vetch, camelina, clover, and field peas that do not the same wide range of impacts that canola would.
ODA Tries to Change the Rules
In early August 2012, the Oregon Department of Agriculture attempted to make a ‘temporary rule’ that would have had permanent consequences for Willamette Valley farmers, allowing fall planting of up to 2500 acres of canola production in the Willamette Valley per year, plus the potential for significantly more through administrative rule waivers. A wide range of farm and food stakeholders wrote the ODA and Governor Kitzhaber to urge the ODA to refrain from moving forward with its new canola rule. Friends of Family Farmers and specialty seed companies also initiated legal action in order to secure a court-ordered stay on the ODA’s temporary canola rule. The court stopped the rule from going into effect and ultimately found that ODA broke the law in failing to make a compelling case for why the temporary rule – which allowed them to avoid public comment and public hearings – was needed, given the irreparable harms it could cause to specialty seed producers.
Despite the legal rebuke, the ODA started over with the same canola proposal in September, 2012, but this time decided to hold required public hearings. The first public hearing was held September 28th, 2012 at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem and brought widespread opposition from farmers and seed companies. A citizen organized rally took place in tandem with the hearing. ODA would ultimately extend the comment period and convened a Canola Advisory Committee, which Friends of Family Farmers participated in, to consider possible modifications to the proposed permanent rule. Ultimately, the ODA moved forward with largely the same proposal as it had initially intended, holding final public hearing on in late January 2012 and finalizing its new canola policy in February 2014. The ODA proposed to divide the Willamette Valley into two zones; one in the center of the Valley where no canola production is allowed and the other has an annual cap of 2,500 acres of canola, plus an undetermined amount of variances that could be given to canola growers ‘near’ the boundary.
In March, 2013, the Oregon Legislature began holding hearings on HB 2427, a bill to overturn ODA’s canola proposal and maintain the long-standing ban on commercial canola production across the entire Willamette Valley.