Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Canola Controversy Heats Up

One of the most impressive and passionate people I've ever interviewed was Frank Morton, a nationally recognized seed breeder and owner of Wild Garden Seed in the heart of the Willamette Valley. In a column in today's Oregonian he discusses why the ODA's unilateral decision to allow cultivation of canola in the valley is a "nightmare."

Oregon's Department of Agriculture has made good on its determination to shrink the Willamette Valley canola control district, despite ongoing objections from Willamette Valley specialty seed growers, seed companies, clover growers and the state Clover Commission, fresh-market vegetable producers, organic growers and Oregon Tilth, the state's largest certifier of organic crops. Each group has its own specific objections to canola. These concerns include genetic cross-contamination of specialty brassica seeds, increased insect and disease problems, and weed issues that in turn contaminate clover, grass and vegetable seeds with canola seed that cannot be sorted out from other seed. Organic farmers and certifiers are doubly concerned about the introduction of genetically modified canola, as this opens up multiple routes for contamination of organic foods through seed, animal feed and pasturage.

This ODA decision is a turnaround to its 2009 determination that canola production represents a substantial risk to the specialty seed industry in the Willamette Valley, an industry worth more than $32 million with a global reach. After a three-year study involving Oregon State University scientists and specialists in agronomy, weeds, insects, diseases and genetic drift, ODA Director Katy Coba ordered that a protected zone be established to keep canola production out of the area traditionally covered by the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association's seed isolation maps and associated rules. The 2009 rule contained a clause requiring the agency to review the rule at the end of 2012.

Instead, in spring of 2012 the ODA notified the specialty seed industry that it wished to reconvene the canola advisory committee and hoped to find opportunities for Willamette Valley growers to produce canola within the protected zone. Have any of the hazards of growing canola changed?

Read the rest of Morton's column, Canola growing area expands, introducing a seed nightmare to the Willamette Valley. Read the other posts in this series Oily Process: Canola Needs Closer Look, More on Canola: Stakeholders File Suit, A Voice from the Field, Despite Decision, It's Not Over, ODA Caves to Canola, Write Right Now, Seeding Change and Legislature Passes Ban.

Top photo by Kathy Freeborn Hadley for the Oregonian.

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