Results of a recent study by Oregon State University strongly suggests canola production could coexist with specialty seed crops in the Willamette Valley.
We hope farmers can see this as an opportunity to put a longstanding disagreement to rest, and work out a way that everyone’s needs are met.
The valley is home to a variety of specialty seed farmers. They grow high-value crops in relatively small quantities.
The valley is also home to farmers who want to grow canola, a relatively low-value crop that can be grown in large quantities.
Canola production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has always been controversial.
Canola produces tiny, oil-rich seeds that can be crushed for food oil or biofuel, and the seed pulp is fed to dairy cows. It doesn’t require irrigation and can be planted and harvested with the same equipment used for grass seed and wheat.
Farmers see canola as a valuable crop to grow in rotation with grass and grains.
But specialty seed growers and the seed companies that contract their acreage worry that large-scale canola production could hurt their business.
Vegetable seeds grown for garden and commercial use have to meet strict genetic requirements. Growers worry that canola could cross pollinate with other Brassicas, such as Swiss chard.
Actual contamination wouldn’t have to occur, they say. The perception could harm their reputation with buyers.
They also worry that large-scale canola production will create pest and disease issues.
As a result, canola production in the valley has been heavily restricted.
In 2013 the Oregon Department of Agriculture decided to loosen those restrictions.
The Legislature stepped in, placing a six-year moratorium on most canola production in 2013 at the request of the specialty seed industry. It also commissioned a study on the impacts of canola production on a 500-acre test plot on the specialty seed industry.
According to the study, Canola poses no greater threat to specialty seed producers than other Brassica species regularly grown in the valley.
The results strengthens the case that canola can coexist with other crops. And because the study was commissioned by lawmakers, it weakens the specialty seed growers’ argument for strict regulations.
The OSU report has now been turned over to ODA, which has another year to develop recommendations for canola cultivation in the region.
The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association has invited canola growers to join in a map “pinning” system designed to maintain isolation distances and avoid cross-pollination among species.
It would still like some limit on production to reduce pest and disease issues.
Canola farmers balk at limits on their Brassica where none exist for radish or turnip seeds grown for cover crops. They need enough production to maintain a viable, food-grade vegetable oil industry.
There seems to be some agreement that farmers can work all this out, and present ODA with a plan that it can regulate for both sides.
We like the idea of farmers working out their differences among themselves. It’s a solution that’s long overdue.