A highly anticipated study on the impacts of canola production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley will soon be released after three years of research.
The report from Oregon State University is expected to frame negotiations over canola’s future in the valley, where most cultivation of the crop is banned until 2019.
Controversy over canola in the region erupted in 2013, when the Oregon Department of Agriculture broke with longstanding precedent and decided to allow 2,500 acres of the crop to be grown along the valley’s edges.
Specialty seed producers opposed the rule change, fearing that canola will disrupt production of related brassica crops grown for seed.
Farmers who want to grow canola, on the other hand, see it as a valuable rotation crop that can be sold on the commodity market — offering flexibility compared to most seed crops, which are grown under contract.
Oregon lawmakers passed a bill that year prohibiting most canola production but allowing 500 acres a year to be grown as part of the OSU study.
With OSU’s report due Nov. 1, both canola growers and seed companies hope the issue will now be less divisive as ODA begins developing recommendations for the crop based on the study’s conclusions.
“We know coexistence is possible, it’s just a matter of convincing people,” said Anna Scharf, whose family farms near Perrydale, Ore.
Scharf said her family has successfully been growing canola near fields dedicated to radish seed, a related crop.
Hopefully, OSU’s study will show there’s a capacity in the Willamette Valley to grow multiple types of brassica, she said.
“I don’t want this turning into a fight again,” Scharf said.
The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which supported the production moratorium, appears to be taking a more conciliatory approach to the crop.
“We expect the need to coexist in the future with some level of canola,” said Greg Loberg, the group’s public relations chair and manager of the West Coast Beet Seed Co.
Specialty seed growers are anticipating the report will result in concessions to canola growers, such as reduced limits on the crop’s production, Loberg said.
The association will be talking with canola growers and ODA to retain some protections for specialty seeds, such as production area sanitation requirements to prevent canola volunteers from becoming widespread, he said.
In return, canola producers will likely want to participate in WVSSA’s system for maintaining isolation distances among brassica crops to avoid cross-pollination and other issues, Loberg said.
The goal is to arrive at a solution without reliving the previous conflict, he said.
“We don’t want to continue to have legislation directing the production of any crop,” Loberg said. “It’s really not the best solution, it’s just the solution that happened.”
As part of the OSU study, roughly 500 acres of canola a year were compared with 500 acres of radish and 500 acres of turnip and forage rapeseed.
By the end of the three-year period, OSU was monitoring about 1,500 acres of each crop type for disease, insect and volunteer weeds, said Carol Mallory-Smith, the weed science professor leading the research.
The study examined residue breakdown of the different crops — which has implications for disease management — under various tillage methods, she said.
The report will include a map identifying acreage available for brassica seed production, which will help guide where canola can be planted in relation to other crops, Mallory-Smith said.
Based on the report’s findings, ODA is expected to deliver its recommendations for canola cultivation to the legislature by mid-November 2018.
Kathy Hadley, who grows canola and other crops near Rickreall, Ore., said she’s hopeful the OSU study will lead to cooperation among canola and specialty seed producers, both of whom contributed data to Mallory-Smith.
“They’ve had as much opportunity as anybody to influence what she presents,” Hadley said.