Canola field

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

Nearly 937,000 acres in Oregon’s Willamette Valley would be off-limits to canola production to prevent cross-pollination with related crops under newly proposed regulations.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has proposed prohibiting canola within this “isolation area” and allow the crop to be cultivated outside that zone.

The isolation area is based on soil characteristics, irrigation availability and landscape features in the central portion of the valley where production of related Brassica crops for specialty seed has traditionally occurred.

“It’s accounting for that intensity that is in that area,” said Lisa Hanson, ODA’s deputy director. “That is an area already very intense in Brassica production.”

Canola growers outside that footprint would still be required to register with the ODA, which would track field locations on a map, she said.

Specialty seed producers could consult that map to see where canola is grown and the farmers would resolve coexistence issues on their own, Hanson said.

Roughly 1.5 million non-irrigation acres of class I-IV soils would be available for canola planting under the rules in the control district for Brassica crops.

The agency’s “isolation area” proposal is similar to an idea floated by ODA last year, before forming an official “rules advisory committee” to consider the regulations.

During committee meetings, momentum appeared to build for a different concept under which the ODA would “pin” canola fields on a map maintained by the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which has called for stricter canola rules.

The idea was aimed at preventing cross-pollination with Brassica specialty seeds, but the WVSSA also wanted a maximum canola acreage to be established, which ODA said was outside its authority.

Canola production is currently limited to 500 acres per year in the valley under a law that expires in July, but the WVSSA has proposed extending that cap indefinitely under legislation that’s being considered in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Meanwhile, the ODA is proposing the regulation for canola to ensure a rule structure exists if that bill isn’t passed.

The Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association, which supports canola production, doesn’t like that ODA’s proposal continues to single out canola from other Brassica crops but is nonetheless on board with the concept, said Anna Scharf, the group’s president.

“This allows an emerging market to grow,” she said.

Senate Bill 885, which would continue limiting canola production to 500 acres per year, does not include provisions beneficial to specialty seed producers, such as the isolation zone and a prohibition against flowering for Brassica cover crops, Scharf said.

The bill doesn’t offer specialty seed producers protection from turnips grown for the open market, for example, and it doesn’t limit where the 500 acres are located, she said.

ODA’s proposal contains elements that will be disliked by both sides of the debate and should make lawmakers realize that SB 885 isn’t necessary, Scharf said.

“I would hope the Legislature now sees ODA has done their job.”

A public hearing on the proposed canola regulations is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 29 at ODA’s headquarters in Salem.

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

Recommended for you