Posted: Thursday, February 04, 2010 11:00 AM
By MITCH LIES
Concerns over canola's potential to infest vegetable seed crops are viable and warrant the crop's prohibition in parts of Oregon, according to recently released findings from a three-year study.
In summarizing the findings, Russ Karow, head of Oregon State University's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, noted that several questions surrounding canola's compatibility with vegetable seed crops remain unanswered.
But, he wrote: "Given the potential risk, precaution suggests not allowing canola production at this time."
Dan Hilburn, an administrator with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said the findings validate the state's prohibition of canola in four areas where vegetable seed crops are grown. Canola production is banned in the Willamette Valley, a three-county area in Central Oregon and two small areas in Eastern Oregon.
"It looks to us like the specialty seed and vegetable industry and commercial canola production can't be grown in the same area," Hilburn said. "The (Willamette) valley has historically been for specialty seed and vegetables, and we're going to keep it that way."
Dean Freeborn, who farms near Rickreall and wants to grow canola, said he was disappointed in the report.
Freeborn said he hopes the state relaxes restrictions on canola production or provides him a special research permit in time to plant some canola this fall.
"We need some kind of profitable crop that we can grow on dry land," he said.
Freeborn wants to grow between 100 and 150 acres of canola in rotation with grass seed and wheat and sell the seed to an oilseed crusher for biodiesel production.
Hilburn said the research showed some crop infestation concerns aren't as serious as previously thought. Others, he said, are greater than previously thought.
The department, for example, was surprised to learn that black pollen beetle was a pest of concern in the canola.
"The beetle had not been an issue with crops grown here before," Hilburn said, "but it apparently really likes canola."
Problems with volunteer canola sprouting in fields where it previously was grown were not as great as the department previously thought, he said. "Normal farming practices seem to take care of that problem."
Canola cross pollinates with some vegetable seed crops, shares many of the same pests and diseases, and some fear widespread canola production will overrun the valley's vegetable seed industry.
The department tweaked some rules after viewing the report, Hilburn said. For example, the department has eliminated the requirement for researchers to conduct hearings to obtain permits to conduct canola compatibility tests.
"We wanted to keep the ability to do research alive and make it easy for that to happen," Hilburn said. "We have found (past research) valuable."
In general, however, the department kept in place all previously imposed restrictions.
"I am comfortable, and (ODA Director) Katy (Coba) is comfortable that the research supports what we've done," Hilburn said.
The department plans to revisit its canola restrictions in 2012.