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Perrydale farmer Matt Crawford stands in a field of wheat that would have been planted in canola this year had a controversial ruling been allowed.
September 04, 2012
POLK COUNTY -- It appears there won't be any canola planted this fall.
On Friday, the Oregon Court of Appeals granted a "motion to stay" a provision by the Oregon Department of Agriculture that would have expanded the allowable area to grow the controversial crop in a 3.68 million-acre canola control district in the Willamette Valley.
In short, what amounts to a general prohibition on canola continues until further notice.
"I'm very disappointed," said Matt Crawford, a Perrydale farmer and a member of the state steering committee that led to the proposed expansion. "It's a loss -- of income for farmers and for not being able to have a legitimate rotation crop."
ODA decided on a temporary rule on Aug. 3 to open 1.7 million acres in the valley to canola, though only 468,000 acres are actually suitable for planting. Canola could have been used as a rotational crop two out of every five years.
Vegetable seed growers and companies, fearing the damage canola could do to the Brassica seed industry -- which is strong in Oregon -- through cross pollination and the spread of highly resistant weeds, filed a lawsuit in early August that halted planting on Aug. 16.
"The real shame is that a handful of farmers and companies can hold 90 percent of the valley hostage," Crawford said, noting that some of the most vocal Oregon canola issue opponents have been from out of state. One of the parties that sued last month was the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit organization from Washington, D.C.
In its order, the appellate court opined that ODA didn't meet certain standards needed to adopt a temporary rule because of vague language in some supporting statements.
Also, according to the order, "the court is persuaded that the petitioners have, in the totality of the circumstances, demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of severe and irremediable harm as to warrant the requested stay."
Polk County and eastern portions of Marion County are areas considered prime for growing canola. As such, many of the opponents and supporters are local.
"The court made the correct decision," said Nick Tichinin, owner of Independence-based Universal Seed Co. and one of several parties who petitioned against a planting expansion. "There was a preponderance of information presented that supported our position."
Tichinin said the vegetable seed industry in Northern Europe is almost nonexistent now because of the introduction of canola there -- "that's the strongest evidence the same problem would happen here," he said.
The planting zone under the proposed temporary rule required canola and specialty seed producers to use an electronic map pinning system to denote what they were going to grow and where they would grow it.
"Saturday was the deadline," said Crawford, who intended to plant canola in Polk County. "I was going around collecting all the paperwork -- and there were maybe 30 other farmers in the county, the Silverton hills and the East Valley doing the same thing."
The canola saga will heat up again later this month. ODA filed this summer for a permanent rule regarding canola. The first public hearing is scheduled Sept. 28 in Salem.
Allowable growing areas, prescribed distances -- in miles -- that the crop can be grown in proximity to specialty seed crops and regulations for transport are all part of a proposed permanent rule.
"In theory, all this judgment does is keep canola away for one more year," Crawford said.
Tichinin said he hoped that ODA would take the order into account. He said the 2009 provision for canola growing -- which allows it with permits in limited areas -- should be left in place.
"Our fundamental position is (with canola) we're playing with fire," he said.
A public hearing on the canola control area has been scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sept. 28 at Cascade Hall at the Oregon State Fairgrounds, 2330 17th St. NE, in Salem. For more information: http://oregon.gov/ODA/Pages/canola.aspx.