Capital Press

PORTLAND -- Can an Oregon winery hold a concert or host a wedding party on their farm?

The answer depends on who you ask.

A land-use issue regarding whether wineries and large-sized farm stands can hold non-farm events for the purpose of selling farm products is coming to a head.

In recent weeks, the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Board of Agriculture have developed resolutions detailing their stances.

The Oregon Wine Growers Association, under a request from Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, and Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem, has prepared what's known as a place-holder bill that Oregon lawmakers could take up in the February special session.

Current law, according to Oregon Department of Agriculture land-use coordinator Jim Johnson, allows some farm-direct sales on farm land: Farms, for example, can sell product generated on their farm at farm stands and, in the case of wineries, in tasting rooms.

From there, he said, the law gets vague. Different counties are interpreting the law in different ways.

The varied interpretations, he said, can provide unfair advantages to wineries in counties with lax interpretation of the land-use restrictions.

He said, it is only a matter of time before a farmer finds himself in the uncompromising position of plowing or spraying a field adjacent to a winery event.

"It's getting to a point where this is going to blow up," Johnson said in a recent presentation to the Oregon Board of Agriculture.

"For every farmer that wants to do these activities, I'll show you 10 that don't want to farm next to them," he said.

The Oregon Board of Agriculture's resolution, which was unanimously adopted on Wednesday, Dec. 16, reads: "Be is resolved (that the board) does not support the use of agricultural lands for activities related to entertainment and tourism and other events except under strictly defined circumstances."

The Oregon Farm Bureau's resolution reads: "We support the right of an agricultural producer to vertically integrate the farm operation .... Non-production based commercial activities should be accessory and auxiliary to the farm use on the subject farm and not the primary use."

In both cases, the bodies required the allowable activity to be supplemental to the farm use, and not the primary use of the land -- a provision both bodies said is key to their positions.

The winery association has yet to firm up the exact language it plans to advance in its bill.

"Our position is we want to find a consensus with others, particularly the counties, to understand or clarify existing law, and, if need be, to come up with language to further clarify existing law," said Gary Conkling, the association's lobbyist.

The placeholder bill, he said, is in place in case the association can reach consensus among its members and with counties prior to the one-month February session.

If not, he said, the association is prepared to wait until the 2011 regular session to advance its bill.

"The speed isn't the issue," he said. "The question is the quality of the consensus."

Staff writer Mitch Lies is based in Salem. E-mail:

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