Saturday, May 25, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Nick Tichinin of Universal Seed Co. fears that allowing canola planting in the Willamette Valley will endanger crops like this hybrid Chinese cabbage seed.
August 28, 2012
POLK COUNTY -- The Oregon Court of Appeals is expected to rule this week on a controversial decision to open parts of the Willamette Valley to the cultivation of canola.
It's a topic being followed in Polk County as closely as anywhere else. Those involved in growing or distributing vegetable seed fear the damage canola -- especially genetically modified varieties -- could have on a $34 million industry via cross pollination and highly resistant weeds.
Others, like Perrydale farmer Matt Crawford, want the option of another broadleaf rotation crop, particularly when canola oil is in high demand.
"I think the long term economic health of the valley would be massively helped by this," said Crawford, who was on the steering committee that proposed new rules that the Oregon Department of Agriculture enacted on Aug. 10.
ODA redefined a boundary set in 2009 that prohibits planting canola on 3.68 million acres spanning nine Oregon counties in order to protect vegetable and specialty seed production.
The Willamette Valley is a major exporter of Brassica seed crops, which include turnip, radish, mustards, rutabaga and cabbage.
After months of review by opponents and supporters, ODA decided on a temporary rule to open 1.7 million acres to canola, though only 468,000 acres is actually suitable for planting, the state said. The provision allows canola as a rotational crop two out of every five years.
ODA's canola-free zone is highlighted in orange on the above map, within the red canola control district.
Agriculture groups and seed producers, including Universal Seed Co. of Independence, filed a lawsuit to halt planting, which the appeals court granted. As such, no production is allowed until a ruling that's expected before the end of this week.
Nick Tichinin of Universal Seed stressed in his motion to the court that "out-of-place" canola -- not in a designated field -- is an aggressive weed that will cross breed into Brassica crops and serves as a host for pests and diseases.
"I expect that we will lose $500,000 to $750,000 of Brassica sales within a year, simply on the fear of our customers of contamination," Tichinin wrote. "Canola, once it proliferates in the valley, which is inevitable, will become a new weed established as noxious."
Bruce and Helle Ruddenklau grow grass and wheat on their acreage in Polk and Yamhill counties; they also grow a wide variety of vegetable seed crops.
"While we are fundamentally in favor of farmers having the right to grow whatever crop they want -- as long as they do so within the existing system -- we cannot support the rules as proposed, especially as we risk our high-value specialty seed crop for the sake of a low-value oil seed crop," Helle Ruddenklau said.
The county has plenty of canola proponents, as well.
Tomas Endicott, owner of Willamette Biomass Processors plant in Rickreall, said the market for biofuels, which use canola oil, is "unlimited."
"And there's no problem selling canola oil or meal in this region. Every dairy on the West Coast imports (canola) meal from Canada all the time," Endicott said. "There would be more dollars cycled through our economy than sending them outside the state or country."
Except for farms abutting the Willamette River and a few other pockets, Polk County deals in mostly dryland farming and is a perfect place for growing canola, Crawford said, noting he planned on planting canola this fall until the temporary stay.
"If I had grown it this year, it would have been my number one grossing crop, and that's no joke," he said.
Crawford farms grass and clover and said another commodity in the rotation would boost yields. Land put into canola production would also reduce competition among growers of certain seed crops, he added.
"Seed companies would have to pay them more money per acre to grow crops," Crawford said.
Crawford said the fact that canola planting would be limited to 15 percent of the land within the control area should prevent drastic impacts.
"I don't take (the concern about canola) lightly," he said. "But I don't believe the (specialty seed market) will be affected like they think it will be."