Prospective farmers required to enter into contract with state

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

SALEM -- The Oregon Department of Agriculture is proposing to expand allowable canola production in the Willamette Valley by 2,500 acres, provided growers meet certain conditions.

Currently, the valley is off-limits to canola production, except for slivers of land on the perimeter.

In a rule filed with the secretary of state, the department unveiled its latest plan, which it developed in consultation with a work group.

It calls for prospective canola producers to enter into a contract with ODA. Contract terms require canola producers to isolate canola from other brassica crops and stop the inadvertent spread of canola seed within a quarter mile of canola fields.

Terms also require that canola transported in or through in the valley be in "suitably packaged, covered or sealed containers or vehicles."

"The (terms) are things we discussed with the work group in trying to find what would be the most reasonable way to allow the growth of canola in the valley and provide adequate protections for the specialty seed industry, and making sure that it mitigated as much risk as we could in the process," said ODA Deputy Director Lisa Hanson.

Specialty seed producers have said they oppose canola production in the valley for fear it could harm the marketing of their crop.

Some grass seed growers, however, believe canola could be produced in a way that doesn't harm the specialty seed industry, yet serve as a valuable rotation crop.

ODA Director Katy Coba said the agency sought a compromise.

"What we heard from the biofuel company (Willamette Biomass Processors) is they could easily handle 10,000 acres worth of production," Coba said.

The Oregon Seed Council, which represents grass seed growers and dealers, supported an expansion to 750 acres, Coba said.

"We looked at what we thought we could manage," Coba said, "and we weighed what people had said they wanted in terms of acreage.

"Clearly, the specialty seed industry in the Willamette Valley is very important," Coba said. "They are a successful, very much high-value industry and we don't want to do anything that is going to damage the specialty seed industry.

"At the same time, we have heard from individuals who are interested in planting a little bit of canola, primarily as a rotation crop for grass seed," she said.

Coba said if growers apply to plant more than 2,500 acres, the department will determine which fields are cleared for production.

ODA has yet to determine the contract fees, but anticipates it will be determined on a per-acre basis, Hanson said. The fees are designed to cover some enforcement and administrative costs, she said.

"We have put all of our focus on trying to get the rule finished," Hanson said. "The next step for us is to sit down and figure out what the cost of the control area will be, and figure out how we will assess that cost.

"Likely, we will look at a per-acre fee once we figured out what that cost recovery amount needs to be," she said.

The proposed rule establishes a minimum for canola fields of 25 acres, a minimum that one grower said could be problematic.

"Our average field is 20 to 25 acres because of the way our ground is laid out," said Dean Freeborn, a Rickreall, Ore., grower who hopes to plant canola next fall. "So that is an issue with me."

"The theory behind that is it is easier to manage fewer larger fields, in terms of the potential spread of seed, than many, many small fields," Hanson said.

ODA sought to expand allowable canola production in the valley earlier this year in an emergency rule, but a court-ordered injunction stopped the department from altering its existing rule.

Coba said Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is expected to publish the new rule Jan. 1, at which time public comment period will open.

The comment period closes Jan. 25.

A public hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. Jan. 23 at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

A new rule could be in place by the first part of February, ODA officials said, in time for producers to prepare for spring planting.

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