Last call for Willamette Valley canola planting

Canola seed is emptied from a harvester into a truck in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. A bill has been introduced that would extend a 500-acre limit on planting the controversial crop in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Agriculture will not seek additional authority to regulate canola during next year’s legislative session.

Last month, the ODA submitted a report to the Legislature outlining several alternatives for regulating canola in the Willamette Valley.

Two of those options would have required lawmakers to vest ODA with more authority, including limiting canola acreage and developing a public “pinning” map system to avoid cross-pollination with related crops.

During a Dec. 19 meeting in Salem, Ore., however, the agency’s leaders said they had not submitted such proposals to the Legislature.

“We really don’t want to have this discussion at the Capitol,” said Lisa Hanson, ODA’s deputy director.

Instead, the agency will pursue rules under ODA’s existing powers, which will likely include an “exclusion zone” where canola will be more tightly regulated.

“We’re doing this to bring certainty to all growers on all sides in the valley,” said Alexis Taylor, ODA’s director.

The new rules would be intended to ensure canola regulation doesn’t “fall off a cliff” when the existing Legislature-mandated 500-acre cap on canola production expires in July 2019, said Taylor.

There’s been a lot of legislative interest in canola in the past, though, so it’s possible lawmakers may nonetheless pass legislation next year that will point ODA in a different direction, she said. “They will do with that what they will.”

Farmers who want to grow canola and those who fear it will disrupt specialty seed production have been grappling with the same questions for years without much progress, said Hanson.

“Nobody in the room is going to get everything they wanted,” Hanson said.

Rather than wrestle with broad philosophical concepts about co-existence between canola and related crops, the rule-making process will instead focus on narrow questions, such as establishing an exclusion zone border and rules for isolation distances between crops, Taylor said.

The Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association, which favors expanded canola production, doesn’t plan to ask lawmakers to introduce any bills on its behalf next year, said Anna Scharf, the group’s president.

The organization would rather proceed with ODA’s rule-making process than seek a resolution in the Capitol, which can yield unpredictable results, Scharf said. “Coexistence begins with equality. The problem is defining equality.”

The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which wants stronger controls over canola, would be “negligent” to vow not to seek recourse through the Legislature if the group believes ODA’s rules will be too lax, said Charles Ortiz, the group’s president.

Ortiz said he personally favors farmers being allowed to grow canola but he doesn’t know if the Willamette Valley can sustain the level of production that canola proponents want.

Greg Loberg, WVSSA’s public relations chairman, said he has qualms about ODA’s regulations being able to anticipate the various coexistence problems that may arise.

When complex conflicts arise among specialty seed producers in WVSSA, they will usually informally work out a “gentlemen’s agreement” specific to the issue at hand — an approach that’s tough to emulate with regulation, Loberg said. “We can’t write rules for every situation.”

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

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