Willamette Valley canola planting

Canola seed is emptied from a harvester into a truck in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. A tentative deal on canola regulations in the region has proved unworkable.

Oregon farm regulators are going back to the drawing board with rules for canola in the Willamette Valley after an earlier concept proved unworkable.

A recent proposal aimed to prevent cross-pollination between canola and related crops under the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s existing regulatory authorities for pests, weeds and disease.

To ensure adequate “isolation distances” between canola and other crops, ODA would have relied on a “pinning map” maintained by the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association.

While the idea initially seemed workable, the WVSSA decided the new regulations should also include a limit on canola acreage in the region due to concerns about gene flow, pests and disease.

However, the ODA doesn’t have the authority to set an acreage cap specifically for canola and growers who want to produce the crop don’t believe such a restriction is justified by science.

The ODA couldn’t move forward with the concept without WVSSA’s endorsement because the agency would need to the group’s permission to use the pinning map.

“We had to have mutual agreement to go down that road,” said Lisa Hanson, ODA’s deputy director.

Instead, the agency plans to re-examine the idea of creating an “exclusion zone” in which canola would face higher restrictions.

The zone would likely be based on the existing “footprint” of intensive specialty seed production in the core area of the Willamette Valley, Hanson said.

Further negotiations with members of a “rules advisory committee” will help shape the concept, including the tricky issue of establishing isolation distances on either side of the zone’s perimeter.

“The big challenge is the border,” she said.

Lauren Henderson, ODA’s assistant deputy director, said the zone idea is still a work in progress and is open to discussion.

“We don’t have anything in concrete today,” he said.

Currently, canola production in the Willamette Valley is limited to 500 acres a year, but the law establishing that limit expires in July.

The ODA intends to implement new rules for canola before that time but the WVSSA has also proposed legislation that would continue restricting canola to 500 acres a year in the region.

The ODA’s rules advisory committee was able to find consensus on creating a control area, enacting isolation distances and issuing permits for canola, but the earlier concept didn’t address a maximum canola acreage or “risk mitigation” for its unwanted spread, said Charles Ortiz, public relations chairman for the WVSSA.

“That’s one of the critical elements. We’ve got to protect what we do,” Ortiz said.

Proposed legislation could address those concerns by expanding ODA’s authority, which was contemplated in the options the agency presented to lawmakers last year, he said.

The Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association, which supports more flexibility for canola production, is disappointed with the change in direction, said Anna Scharf, the group’s president.

“I think it’s sad they walked away from the process,” she said, referring to WVSSA.

Banning or restricting canola within an exclusion zone would be problematic for the same reasons as an acreage cap, since an Oregon State University study found canola is no greater hazard than related crops, Scharf said.

“I struggle with how we cap a crop that’s a legal commodity,” she said. “I haven’t seen the scientific reason yet.”

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

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