Canola field

A bill limiting canola in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to 500 acres a year has passed a key subcommittee.

A proposed 500-acre limit on canola production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley would expire in four years under a revised bill making headway in the Legislature.

Cultivation of the crop was originally capped at 500 acres in 2013 but that restriction was set to expire this year, to be replaced with new rules from the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

However, specialty seed producers who worry canola will cross-pollinate with related Brassica crops and increase disease problems asked lawmakers to adopt the limit indefinitely under Senate Bill 885.

On June 11, an amendment that would repeal the cap in 2024 was adopted by a key group of lawmakers, with the bill now heading for a vote before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means with a “do pass” recommendation.

The latest version of SB 885, which was approved 5-3 by the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources, also removes a provision requiring ODA to develop recommendations for coexistence between canola and other crops.

The provision was eliminated as a cost-saving measure for ODA, according to lawmakers.

Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, said he opposed the bill because the Legislature shouldn’t be picking winners and losers among Oregon crops.

“I have some concern with getting involved with what agricultural producers can and can’t do,” he said.

The subcommittee’s approval of the bill is a blow to the Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association, which hopes to expand production of canola as a rotation crop and cash commodity for farmers in the region.

Anna Scharf, the group’s president, said the bill’s approval indicates a lack of confidence among lawmakers in the Oregon Department of Agriculture as well as Oregon State University, which concluded canola poses no greater threat than other Brassica crops.

“The legislature just said there should be a monopoly in this state of a handful of specialty seed companies,” Scharf said.

Scharf said the amended version of the bill would be problematic if it passed because ODA will be expected to oversee the 500-acre limit without authority to ensure coexistence among crops.

The expiration date of 2023 isn’t much of a relief, she said. “In four more years, we’ll get to play this song and dance again.”

Egg production

A bill that would require eggs sold in Oregon to be produced by chickens in cage-free housing also passed the subcommittee on June 11, with no lawmakers objecting to a “do pass” recommendation.

The proposal, which mirrors laws in Washington and California, is supported by the Humane Society of the United States as well as egg producers who are part of Food Northwest, an industry group.

“It’s important to have standards that can apply across jurisdictions,” said Mike Freese, lobbyist for Food Northwest.

Under an amendment approved by the subcommittee, the cage-free standards would only apply to egg producers with more than 3,000 hens.

Solar facilities

Counties would have more authority over approving solar facilities under House Bill 2329, which was approved 6-2 by the subcommittee on June 10.

The bill would allow county governments to have jurisdiction over solar projects of up to 160 acres on high-value farmland, up from 100 acres under current law. Larger projects would have to be approved by the Energy Facility Siting Council. Solar proponents claim that process is more time-consuming and expensive.

Counties would also have jurisdiction over solar projects up to 1,280 acres on “predominantly cultivated” land or land mostly composed of soil classes I through IV, up from the current threshold of 100 acres. The threshold for other lands would increase to 1,920 acres, up from the current 320 acres.

While proponents of HB 2329 argue the higher thresholds will increase solar energy’s share of Oregon’s electricity production, critics claim the bill will go too far in allowing projects on farmland.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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