Friday, March 8, 2013

The fight over canola is far from over

In late January I blogged about the ongoing fight by the small farm community to keep canola out of the Willamette Valley and the danger the plant, also known as rapeseed, poses to the area’s thriving specialty seed industry. At the time, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) was taking public testimony on the issue before finalizing a rule change that would have allowed canola to be planted on thousands of previously restricted acres in the valley.

Despite public opposition to the plan, on February 7 the ODA adopted a modification of the proposed administrative rule that will allow some level of canola planting in the valley. In response, the non-profit group Friends of Family Farmers (FFF) which has led the anti-canola fight and their allies are rolling up their sleeves for a new grassroots campaign in support of a new law reinstating the area-wide canola ban.

Current House Bill 2427, entitled the “Willamette Valley Canola Ban”, would block any canola planting in “Clackamas, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and Yamhill Counties and the portion of Benton and Lane Counties lying east of the summit of the Coast Range.”  FFF’s Leah Rodgers says that while legislators are voicing support for the local seed industry, many are leery of the idea of a ban and used to deferring to the experts at the ODA.

Rodgers says that FFF’s efforts will target key key legislators to get behind the bill and/or offer amendments to smooth its passage. HB 2427 will receive a committee hearing later this month. The state senate also has a version of the bill, SB 433.

It appears that public pressure to protect the local specialty seed industry may be key to deciding the matter. Even the ODA responded to the grassroots campaign against canola when issuing the final version of its new rule, limiting the areas in the valley where canola can be planted.  “Following the extensive amount of public comments received, we have made modifications to what was proposed in order to give greater assurance that our specialty seed growers in the Willamette Valley are not harmed by canola production,” ODA Director Katy Coba  wrote in a press release announcing the new rule.

Frank Keogh, a Philomath area organic vegetable seed farmer, published his letter to the 14 legislators who might see the bill in committee on the blog Good Stuff Northwest. It’s worth taking a look at.

It’s also worth noting that when the ODA announced a temporary rule allowing canola planting last summer, FFF and others were able to block the rule in court. The State Court of Appeals ruled that the petitioners “demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of severe and irremediable harm” to seed growers should canola be planted as planned.   

But that temporary victory proved costly. FFF and its fellow petitioners paid over $50,000 to keep canola out of the Willamette Valley for six months. While they are investigating the legal options to reinstate the canola ban, small farm supporters are pinning their major hopes on Oregon’s lawmakers.

No comments:

Post a Comment