Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A real no-brainer

I’ve been a fan of biodiesel for quite some time – locally and sustainably produced biodiesel that is, not the nasty stuff driving deforestation in Indonesia. My wife and I were members of a car-sharing co-op in the day before biodiesel was available at gas stations. We’d have a local start-up, Sequential Biofuels, deliver 55-gallon drums of biodiesel to our house. We’d hand pump the stuff, made from used cooking oil and smelling of French fries when burned, into gas cans to fill an old Mercedes sedan.

Back then, I was pretty excited about the prospect of Willamette Valley grass seed farmers planting rapeseed and canola, related plants whose seed oils can be refined into biodiesel. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time. Valuable farm acreage currently wasted producing grass seed for the golf courses of Asia could be replanted with food crops in the summer, with the canola rotated in during the winter. It sounded like a great way to increase both local food production and regional supplies of sustainable-produced fuel.

Then, a funny thing happened. Local farmers started pushing back against the whole idea. That didn’t make any sense to me at first. But then I discovered that canola is one of the top GMO crops in the country. Well, I know that GMO crops are a terrible idea; it’s a no-brainer for anyone with ecological sensibilities (a growing subset of people, organizations and countries that, significantly, includes neither the USDA nor the Oregon Department of Agriculture). So, why not push for non-GMO canola in the Valley?

What I didn’t know before picking up last Thursday’s Eugene Weekly was that even GMO-free canola poses a threat to the Valley’s high value seed production industry, which provides highly-skilled small farmers with a lucrative crop. Producing organic seeds for Brassica vegetables like cabbage isn’t easy, and canola, GMO or not, readily cross pollinates with Brassicas and ruins their marketability. The Willamette Valley is one of the world’s leading seed producing regions for these crops, feeding a thriving global market. Why in the world would we want to destroy an established industry supporting small farmers with living wage jobs?

The ODA is taking public testimony through January 25 on the issue before finalizing a rule change that would allow canola to be planted on thousands of previously restricted acres in the valley. Go ahead and let them know that we shouldn’t harm small farmers and sink our seed industry. It’s a no-brainer. Send your comments to:

Canola Hearings Officer,
Department of Agriculture,
635 Capitol Street NE, Salem, OR 97301

Or email:

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