Canola field

Canola grows in a field. A new test for gene-edited canola that’s resistant to certain herbicides has unclear regulatory implications.

A planned 937,000-acre exclusion zone for canola in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has been scrapped with the passage of a bill limiting the crop to 500 acres in the region.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture had intended to prohibit canola production within the exclusion zone in the valley’s central portion to prevent cross-pollination with related Brassica seed crops when the previous legal regime for the crop expired this summer.

However, on the final day of the 2019 legislative session, Oregon lawmakers extended a 500-acre cap on canola in the area for another four years. The limit was first established in 2013 and expected to sunset in July 2019.

The agency had included the 500-acre provision in its canola regulations with the anticipation Senate Bill 885 would become law, so no additional rule-making will be required to implement the legislation, said Sunny Summers, special projects coordinator with ODA.

The ODA’s oversight of canola production in the valley will be much the same as for the past six years, though the rules “beef up” some details and reinstate a provision that the crop can only be grown in the same field every two out of five years, she said.

Canola must also be grown at least three miles away from related specialty seed crops unless the growers agree to an exception to that rule.

Growers have until July 19 to apply online to the agency for permits to plant the crop this autumn, with ODA to conduct a lottery if demand exceeds the 500-acre limit.

It’s likely that farmers will seek to grow more than 500 acres of the crop, as they have in recent years, said Anna Scharf, president of the Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association.

There was no scientific rationale to extend the 500-acre cap until mid-2023, since a study by Oregon State University concluded that canola poses no greater threat than other Brassica crops, such as turnips, that can be grown freely in the valley, Scharf said.

“The battle will be back in the Legislature in four years,” she said.

It was tough for canola growers to fight SB 885 during the legislative session because they don’t have as much cash as specialty seed producers to hire a prominent lobbying firm to represent their interests, Scharf said.

“Small farmers don’t have the ability to fight big corporations,” she said. “We don’t have the money to do that, and that works to their advantage.”

Capital Press was unable to reach the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which supported the 500-acre cap, for comment as of press time.

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

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