House approves protections for all Oregon seed growers

SALEM — Early organization has proved advantageous for supporters of a bill establishing minimum contract protections for all Oregon seed growers, which the House unanimously approved Feb. 13.

Under House Bill 4068, dealers must pay farmers market prices for seed by certain deadlines enforced by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Grass seed crops have received similar protections since 2011 under a statute aimed at preventing “slow pay, no pay” problems, but other types of seed were excluded from the legislation.

Before the idea of expanding the contract protections was brought to the Oregon lawmakers, the specifics were hashed out by farmers, seed dealers and trade groups.

By the time HB 4068 was introduced, all the details had been hammered out and the bill sailed through the House Agriculture Committee without any opposing testimony or even an amendment.

The lack of complication has served the bill well in 2018, when several other proposals have been killed off for being too grandiose or intricate to properly examine in a little more than a month.

Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, briefly explained the bill’s purpose on the House floor and praised it for adhering to the “spirit of the short session” — it’s “narrow in scope” and has been “thoroughly vetted” by the affected parties, he said.

Anna Scharf, whose family farm near Amity, Ore., was instrumental in advocating the bill, Post said.

The concept for expanding contract protections to clover, meadowfoam, radish, turnip, mustard and other seeds was initiated by Scharf in 2017.

Initially, she sought to simply add other seed types to the class of crops protected under the 2011 statute. However, the proposal “unraveled” because the payment terms for grass seed didn’t align with those of other seeds, Scharf said.

For a year, the Oregon Farm Bureau and farmers “worked out the kinks” with seed industry stakeholders and arrived at a proposal that lawmakers could embrace as “bipartisan” and “not political,” she said.

“It shows they’re willing to acknowledge that farmers growing proprietary crops have a necessity and a right to be paid in a timely manner,” Scharf said. “We aired out our differences and figured out a law we could live within.”

Because most specialty seeds are proprietary, they can’t be sold on the open market if the contracting seed dealer fails to pay, she said.

If HB 4068 is similarly successful in the Senate — which is likely — the playing field between growers and dealers will be more level, Scharf said. “It’s a game changer. I can’t tell you how excited I am about it.”

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