By MITCH LIES
While lawmakers debate the merits of a bill placing a three-year prohibition on canola production in the Willamette Valley, those in opposition to its production are also mounting a legal challenge.
Friends of Family Farmers, Center for Food Safety, Wild Garden Seed and Universal Seed Co. have filed suit in the Oregon Court of Appeals challenging the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Feb. 7 ruling that allows up to 2,500 acres of canola production in the valley.
The plaintiffs contend the department did not adequately consider the economic effects of its ruling on farmers when deciding to lift a ban on its production that had been in place since 2009.
The plaintiffs have not sought an injunction, preferring to let the legislation play out, said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers.
Plaintiffs filed suit prior to the resolution of the legislation solely to meet a court deadline, said Nick Tichinin of Universal Seeds.
"It was simply a matter of timing," Tichinin said. "If we were going to file a suit at all, it had to be filed at that time."
Plaintiffs had until early April, 60 days after the ruling, to challenge it, Tichinin said.
Tichinin said he would rather see the issue resolved in the Legislature than in the courts.
"Legal action is always the last option," he said.
But, Tichinin said, in lieu of legislative action, the plaintiffs want to be in position to challenge ODA's ruling.
"We felt we needed to reserve our option to seek a remedy in court," Maluski said, "because we don't know whether any bill that will address the concerns around canola will pass."
House Bill 2427 recently moved from the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to the joint Ways and Means Committee with a do-pass recommendation. The bill places a three-year moratorium on canola production in the Willamette Valley.
The plaintiffs contend that widespread canola production will lead to increased presence of insects, weeds and diseases in the valley, and could lead to cross pollination between brassica crops, rendering some vegetable seed crops unmarketable.