By MITCH LIES
The Oregon Department of Agriculture is considering relaxing restrictions on canola production in the Willamette Valley.
The department on March 22 convened an advisory committee of farmers who either oppose or support the restrictions.
The consideration is part of a previously scheduled three-year review of the restrictions.
The department prohibits canola production in all but the outer extremities of the valley.
The restrictions are in place to protect the valley's lucrative specialty seed industry from contamination by insects and diseases common among canola and specialty seed crops.
The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association advocated the implementation of the restrictions in 2005, when the rules were first adopted, and in a 2009 review of the rules.
The association recently indicated in a written proposal that they "are willing to discuss boundary adjustments provided their production area is protected," according to an ODA summary of the position.
The statement indicates more tolerance for canola production than the organization previously expressed. Still, the organization prefaced the softer stance by saying it has "an overwhelming preference to leave the rules unchanged."
The Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association, in a letter to the department, said it supports protecting areas with the heaviest production of specialty seed crops, but it wants to open other areas to canola production.
Growers producing canola in what the association termed the "general production area" would be required to register the location of all canola fields, pay a fee and follow ODA production requirements, according to the proposal.
In a third letter to the department, Oregon State University suggested the department modify the existing rule by creating three "canola/large-acreage brassica" production areas. Canola, like several specialty seed crops, is a brassica.
In one area, brassica crops of all types could be grown with no required separation between fields.
Other restrictions include that transportation of the oilseed crop must be in sealed containers.
The OSU proposal also calls for a "no production zone," where neither canola nor large-acreage brassicas may be grown, but where all other specialty seed crops are allowed.
And it calls for a boundary zone, where exceptions to the restrictions will be considered on a case-by-case basis by a panel of specialty seed association members.
Dan Hilburn, administrator of ODA's plant division, said he believes "there are things that could be changed in the rule that would allow folks to still grow their specialty seeds and allow canola to be grown in the valley, especially around the edges."
But, Hilburn said, he would like to see a compromise before he recommends that ODA Director Katy Coba change the rules.
Asked what degree of compromise would make him comfortable, Hilburn said, "We could have a 90 percent agreement with some people still unhappy, and we might go ahead.
"I think if it's 50-50 and nobody is willing to move, we don't have a good option there," he said.