Petition targets Willamette Valley canola
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 10:50 AM
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Opponents of canola production in the Willamette Valley planned to deliver a petition with more than 23,000 signatures to top state officials Aug. 14 urging the state to "say no to canola."
The petition drive was organized by the Molalla, Ore.-based organization Friends of Family Farmers and distributed online.
It calls for the Oregon Department of Agriculture "to halt the temporary rulemaking process" that is allowing farmers to plant more canola in the valley beginning this fall.
About half the petition backers were from Oregon, said Leah Rodgers, field director of the organization.
Friends of Family Farmers is fearful that canola production will lead to an increase in pests and diseases harmful to fresh vegetable and vegetable seed growers, Rodgers said.
The organization also is concerned about genetically engineered canola entering the valley, Rodgers said. And it is upset over what she characterizes as a "lack of transparency and rush to get this rule in place," on the part of ODA.
"(Farmers) have been railroaded and blindsided by this temporary rule that is effective immediately," Rodgers said. "Folks don't feel like they were able to have their perspective heard."
Friends of Family Farmers put the petition online Aug. 7.
"I was quite amazed at the amount of folks that are passionate about this issue and signed on," Rodgers said. "I think the fact that so many folks from other states and even Canada signed the petition shows that this is an issue of widespread concern."
The ODA on Aug. 10 filed the temporary rule expanding where canola production is allowed in the valley by nearly 1.7 million acres. The area includes about 480,000 acres suitable for canola production.
The rule protects 2 million acres in the heart of the valley, where canola production is prohibited.
Barring a change, the temporary rule is in place for one growing season, ODA Director Katy Coba said.
The department has started proceedings to adopt a permanent rule, which it plans to have in place before the temporary rule expires next February. Those proceedings will include public hearings, Coba said.
Rodgers said the organization wants Coba to rescind the temporary order. Short of that, she said, the organization is prepared to file suit challenging the temporary rule.
"We believe this is improper action on ODA's part," Rodgers said.
For several decades, vegetable seed companies have contracted for seed production in the fertile Willamette Valley. In addition to its climate, the valley provides an ideal setting for the high-value production because of its minimal exposure to contaminants, vegetable seed growers say.
The influx of canola in Europe drove vegetable seed contractors out of parts of Europe, vegetable seed producers say, and threatens to do the same in the valley.
At risk is an industry with an annual farm gate value of between $30 million and $50 million.
Dryland grain growers, conversely, say opening acreage to canola in the foothills of the valley will allow farmers to produce a profitable rotation crop and poses little or no threat to vegetable seed production on the valley floor.
The department made no special concession for genetically engineered canola in the temporary rule, opening the valley to it, as well as non-biotech canola.
Rodgers said she would still oppose the ruling even if the ODA permitted only non-biotech canola in the valley.
"It is not just a GMO (genetically modified organism) issue," she said. "It is a canola issue.
"Canola in and of itself is a threat to the specialty seed industry and fresh market growers," Rodgers said.
"It is such a low-value commodity that there is not much incentive for growers to be diligent to eradicate pests," she said.
Still, many comments posted online from petition supporters singled out biotech canola as a concern.
Representatives of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association and Friends of Family Farmers were to deliver the petition to Coba and Richard Whitman, natural resources policy advisor for Gov. John Kitzhaber, in a meeting at the governor's office.