By MITCH LIES
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba said the department's decision to allow some canola production in the Willamette Valley was not influenced by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
"We have received absolutely no pressure whatsoever, no guidance, no suggestion from the governor's office to allow canola to be grown in the valley," Coba said.
Many have speculated that Kitzhaber, as an advocate of renewable energy, has pushed for allowing Willamette Valley production of canola, a feedstock for biodiesel.
Canola production was prohibited in the valley prior to a Feb. 7 rule issued by the department that allows 2,500 acres to be grown outside a protected zone in the heart of the valley.
Coba said several factors weighed on the department's decision to allow some production, but capping the acreage.
"We believe allowing the 2,500 acres sets up a venue where we can allow some production of canola, while (we) continue to protect an incredibly valuable (specialty seed crop) industry in the state of Oregon," she said.
"We felt that that was a number that balanced what we had heard in public testimony, and a number we in the agency felt we could legitimately manage," she said.
Coba said the department has no plans to revisit the rule, but could increase or decrease allowable acreage in the future depending on how the crop performs and whether it causes a problem for other crops.
"We're going to start with the 2,500 acres and see how well that is managed," she said.
Coba said the future of Oregon agriculture is contingent on the ability of Oregon farmers to work together in a spirit of cooperation, a premise that will be tested on the edges of the canola restricted zone.
"Co-existence is an issue we will be dealing with more and more as we look to the future of Oregon agriculture, because we are such a diverse industry," Coba said.
"We strongly encourage communication from farmer to farmer," she said.