Canola debate heats up in Capitol
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- An Oregon State University weed scientist said in a legislative hearing March 19 to expect an increase in disease and pest pressure if growers increase production of canola and other brassica seed crops in the Willamette Valley.
"I think if we increase the brassica seed production in the Willamette Valley, using canola or any of the other brassica crops, we will see an increase in diseases and pests," said Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at OSU. "It is very, very likely."
An increase of pests and diseases common to canola and specialty seed crops threatens a $50 million specialty seed industry, said Greg Loberg, public relations chair of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association.
Loberg testified in support of House Bill 2427, which would ban canola production in the valley.
Others to testify March 19, said, grown responsibly, canola does not present a threat to specialty seed crops.
"Canola is not the big invasive animal it's been portrayed as," said Chuck Sherman, a farmer from Sublimity.
Sherman and Troy Hadley, another farmer to testify, said canola offers them one of their only viable rotation crops for grass seed.
"We've already eliminated field burning, which is a big tool we lost," Sherman said. "I feel this is a viable rotation crop for us, which is what they told us to look for."
In a rule adopted in February, the Oregon Department of Agriculture allowed up to 2,500 acres of canola production a year in a limited production zone encompassing 1.7 million acres on the perimeters of the valley.
The department kept in place a prohibition on canola in a 1.9 million-acre zone in the heart of the valley, where the bulk of specialty seed production occurs.
The department also put in place conditions on its production, including that growers who contract with the department to produce the crop in the valley follow certain best management practices.
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, who has directed the department for 10 years, characterized the issue of whether to allow some canola production here as "the most challenging issue I've dealt with as director of the Department of Agriculture."
Coba said the department tried to "find that place where we felt that you could have co-existence, minimize your risk to the specialty seed industry, and allow some use of canola as a rotation crop for grass seed production.
"If indeed we had a level of production that harmed the specialty seed industry, that would be a significant loss to that industry," she said.
Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, a co-sponsor of HB2427, said he prefers to defer to the Department of Agriculture on agricultural issues, but in this case, he believes lawmakers need to take charge.
"I don't think the Legislature can turn a blind eye on this issue," Edwards said.
"There may not be highly conclusive evidence about the risk of canola, but I do fear that that consensus will come in the marketplace, and the market risks to the specialty seed industry in our state are real," Edwards said.
Among those who testified before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee was a production manager from a Japanese seed company.
Takashi Ishizaki of Tohoku Seed Co. said canola production in the valley places at risk a production area used extensively by his company and other seed companies in Japan.
"We get the best seed quality and the reliability of production (in the Willamette Valley). The Willamette Valley is a critical production area for our company and for others in Japan," Ishizaki said.
"We are highly concerned about any threat to the continued safety of the seed production here," he said. "If canola production is allowed ... my company and other companies will immediately start looking for other places to produce our seed."
The committee took no action on the bill.