Canola poses no greater threat to specialty seed producers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley than turnips, radish and other related crops, according to Oregon State University.
Problems with insects, diseases and volunteers weren’t materially different enough in canola fields for the crop to be considered a unique risk compared to other species from the Brassica genus, the three-year OSU study found.
“It’s feasible that canola can be grown in the Willamette Valley,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, the OSU weed science professor who wrote the long-awaited report.
“There’s no reason to treat canola differently,” she said.
The study was completed at the direction of Oregon lawmakers, who ordered a six-year moratorium on most canola production in 2013 at the request of the specialty seed industry.
After the Oregon Department of Agriculture decided to loosen restrictions on canola production in the region, the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association asked the Legislature to intervene.
Lawmakers passed a bill that suspended canola production until 2019 but allowed 500 acres of the crop to be grown for three years as part of OSU’s study. They later extended the 500 acres of canola production to six years.
The OSU report has now been turned over to ODA, which has another year to develop recommendations for canola cultivation in the region.
It’s likely the agency will assemble an advisory committee that includes representatives of the canola and specialty seed industries who will try to hammer out an agreement, said Kathy Hadley, a canola farmer from Rickreall, Ore.
Hadley said she hopes canola can be grown on at least 5,000 acres a year, which would allow a local oilseed facility — Willamette Biomass Processors — to invest in producing food-grade vegetable oil.
“There’s certainly a demand for that,” she said.
The specialty seed industry wants to find a way to coexist with canola producers without further intervention from lawmakers, said Greg Loberg, public relations chairman for WVSSA.
“We’re trying to do it without a government solution, but with a private solution,” Loberg said.
The association is willing to include canola farmers as affiliate members for a reduced fee, permitting them to join in a map “pinning” system designed to maintain isolation distances and avoid cross-pollination among species, he said.
Growers of turnip and radish seed can already participate in the system, but canola growers do not since they’re currently regulated by ODA, Loberg said.
While the pinning system can preserve genetic purity, pest and disease problems would become worse if the total Brassica acreage continues to grow, he said.
“We’re going to have to coexist but there is going to have to be some kind of limit,” Loberg said. “There will be impacts if a practical limit is exceeded.”
It’s true that increased Brassica production could aggravate pest and disease issues, but radish seed is already widely grown in the Willamette Valley without any cap on acreage, Hadley said.
“A Brassica is a Brassica. It’s not necessarily right to talk limits about one species and not other ones,” she said. “I feel like things need to be fair across the board for Brassicas, not picking and choosing one crop over another.”
Radish and turnip farmers can voluntarily pin their fields on WVSSA’s map, but they’re not required to participate, said Anna Scharf, whose family farms near Perrydale, Ore.
The Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association, which represents canola growers, plans to discuss the possibilities for coexistence with its board and membership by the end of the year, Scharf said.
“Until then, I’m very reluctant to say we want X and we want Y,” she said.