Posted: Thursday, January 14, 2010 4:24 PM
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- The furor over Oregon's canola-growing restrictions made its way to the Oregon Capitol Jan. 14.
Canola advocates in a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee said the state's restrictions are unfair and unnecessary. They called for the state to allow some canola production in the Willamette Valley.
Backers of the restrictions said without them, canola will overrun the valley's agriculture.
The debate, which has been waged off and on for five years, isn't likely to be resolved any time soon. Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, who called the hearing, said he has no legislation planned for either the February special session or the 2011 regular session.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture in 2005 restricted canola production in four areas of Oregon, including nearly the entire Willamette Valley and three Central Oregon counties.
Last fall, the department agreed to maintain the restrictions for at least three more years.
The restrictions are designed to protect the specialty seed industry.
Canola cross pollinates with some brassica crops, and many believe it will increase insect and disease pressure on the high-value specialty seed crops. Some growers also fear volunteer canola plants will take root and spread throughout the valley.
Specialty seed growers said plenty of areas in the world are suitable for canola production. Oregon's Willamette Valley, on the other hand, is unique and a premium production site for vegetable seeds.
Dan Hilburn, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture's plant division, said that during phone calls to an international panel of seed-production experts, the department heard over and over again to be careful.
"All these people knew about the Willamette Valley," Hilburn said. "They said, 'That's a very special place. Don't blow it.'"
Canola has displaced specialty seed production in some areas, Hilburn said.
Russ Karow, head of the Department of Crop and Soil Science at Oregon State University, said three years of tests by the College of Agriculture showed seed shatter was significant in canola, giving rise to concerns of volunteer canola spread.
Tests showed cabbage maggot was present in canola acres, as well as an array of other bugs, he said -- an indication that insect pressure could increase if canola were to become widely produced in the valley.
Diseases also were present throughout the canola acres, he said.
"It's an invasive crop," said Mike Iverson, a fresh vegetable grower who testified at the hearing. "It doesn't have a place here in a high-value cropping system."
Canola backers disagreed and said that of 900,000 acres of arable ground in the valley, the state can find a few thousand acres suitable for canola production.
Canola backers said they have no desire to harm the specialty seed industry and that canola acres could be incorporated into a pinning system used by specialty seed growers to identify crop locations on maps. The system is in place to preserve a three-mile separation between crops susceptible to cross pollination.
"It is possible for these two industries to co-exist," said John Miller, a nurseryman and part-owner of a Salem biodiesel processing plant.
Kathy Hadley, who operates a farm with her father in Polk County, said canola could be an important rotation crop for her farm.
"It's important for us to have a rotation crop with grass seed," she said, "especially a broadleaf crop (like canola)."