Legislative Report: Take Action on Canola Contamination, Housing and Hunger

There are just two weeks left in this legislative session and three pieces of legislation need your help.

Canola is a low-value crop that can cross-pollinate with valuable food crops,
wreaking havoc on local agriculture if it is not tightly controlled.

Protect the Willamette Valley from Canola Contamination

Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Protected District (HB 4059) needs to be passed before the current proposal "sunsets" this year. The Willamette Valley is one of the most important regions in the world for large-scale vegetable seed production. Prior to 2015, growing canola was prohibited in the Valley due to its ability to cross-pollinate with crops in the brassica family like broccoli, kale, cabbage and others, risking the livelihoods of vegetable farmers and seed producers. In 2015 a law was passed allowing a very limited amount of canola to be grown with strict rules requiring distancing from brassica growers.

In order to protect farmers and growers of vegetable seeds in the brassica family from fear of crop contamination or rejection of contaminated seed by national and international markets, strong protections and compliance tools must be developed. Maintaining the Willamette Valley Protected District and limiting canola production is crucial to preserving the state's specialty seed growing industry. More information here.

ACTION NEEDED: Submit your testimony by e-mailing Senator Jeff Golden, Chair of the committee and entering "HB 4059_A" in the Subject line, then copy and paste the text below into the message, filling in the brackets as needed.

To Chair Golden, Vice Chair Girod and members of the committee:

My name is [name] and I am writing in support of HB 4059-A. I am a community member in [town]. The Willamette Valley Specialty Brassica seed industry is vital to the agricultural landscape of Oregon and we are so lucky to have the land, expertise and conditions to support this unique industry. We should protect these farmers’ ability to grow the seeds that produce millions of pounds of food across the world. 

Because a reasonable agreement could not be reached after the work group process, extending the current regulations is the only viable option. This topic means so much to me because [insert your reason here, such as "I want to be able to buy locally produced organic seeds for my garden that are adapted to our climate" or "I want to buy organic crops from local farmers to put on my table," etc.].

We know that HB 4059-A is not the end of the road and we will have to find a more permanent solution in the next few years. I urge legislators to listen to the specialty seed growers in this process. Just because they are not the biggest, most industrialized farms does not mean that they have any less value in the system. Please respect their knowledge of the plant biology, industry standards and best practices that have made this a thriving industry here in our state. In particular, we need future policy to address the issues outlined in scientific studies that threaten organic production in the Willamette Valley.

Thank you,

[your name]
[your address and town]


Choosing sprawling subdivisions and strip malls won't solve our housing crisis—
it will only destroy valuable farmland and create new problems for Oregonians.

Support Smart Housing Policy

Governor Kotek’s 2024 housing bill, Senate Bill 1537, offers Oregon much-needed infrastructure funding and climate-smart housing incentives but it also allows cities to override long-established land use laws and processes to expand their urban growth boundaries (UGBs) by at least 75 or 150 net residential acres, depending on population size. This could lead to municipalities open to influence from developers eager to enrich themselves at the expense of our rich agricultural  lands near population centers.

Though there are many crucial components in this bill that address the existing housing crisis, advocates are stressing the need to prioritize affordable housing within the existing UGBs first and foremost. Oregon’s land use laws and the concept of Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) has protected valuable farmland, they argue, saying that once farmland is lost, we can't get it back. Farmland with close proximity to urban markets supports a robust local food system, benefitting urban residents who gain access to locally grown products and farmers who have ready access to a large customer base.

ACTION NEEDED: Ask your legislator to support smart housing policy by adding your name to this letter from 1000 Friends of Oregon.


The Double Up Food Bucks program gives hungry families access to local food.

Fresh Local Food for Hungry Families

Double Up Food Bucks help those who currently receive food assistance through the SNAP program to afford additional fruits and vegetables. A healthy diet is a crucial part of building a healthy lifestyle and that is why it's critical this program receives continued funding. There are federal matching dollars available, but only if legislators allocate more state dollars.

ACTION NEEDED: Message your state lawmakers today and ask them to support the $1 million funding request for this important program.

Legislative Report: 2024 Session Short but Critical for Oregon Farmers and Ranchers

The Oregon Legislature convened for its 82nd session this week. They'll have 35 days to complete their work—by law they cannot extend the session beyond that in even-numbered years (160 days in odd-numbered years)—with several bills requiring action that will affect our food system. Some of those are:

Oregon Agricultural Heritage Fund (HB 4060). This bill is requesting $10.8M for the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP) for the next biennium. OAHP has four components: technical assistance, succession planning, conservation management plans, and easements. This program is crucial not only for the preservation of Oregon's farmland, but the incorporation of environmental stewardship into working lands management.

Two of those components are particularly critical:

  • Conservation management plans help farmers and ranchers develop plans for the long term viability of their farm ecosystems along with a plan to pay for improvements with matched federal funds.
  • Conservation easement is a vital tool to protect farmland for agricultural use in perpetuity and lower the price of farmland for the next generation of producers.  

If passed, this bill will broaden the tools available to lower land prices for people wanting to start farming or grow their existing farms; preserve farmland for production; and keep farms close to city centers. Advocates say we must take steps to preserve our high value soils and farmland permanently or we risk losing land accessible to the community food system in the future.


Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Protected District (HB 4059). This bill directs the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to study issues around the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Protected District, and whether to allow expanded growing of canola within the district. The ODA is directed to report back with recommendations in September of 2025.

The Willamette Valley is one of the most important regions in the world for large-scale vegetable seed production. Prior to 2015, growing canola was prohibited in the Valley due to its ability to cross-pollinate with crops in the brassica family like broccoli, kale, cabbage and others, risking the livelihoods of vegetable farmers and seed producers. In 2015 a law was passed allowing a very limited amount of canola to be grown with strict rules requiring distancing from brassica growers.

In order to protect farmers and growers of vegetable seeds in the brassica family from fear of contamination or rejection of contaminated seed by national and international markets, strong protections and compliance tools must be developed. Maintaining the Willamette Valley Protected District and limiting canola production is crucial to preserving the state's specialty seed growing industry.


Housing, Land Use and UGB Expansion (SB 1537). This bill is aimed at adding much-needed affordable housing through infrastructure investment, developing climate-smart practices and instituting accountability systems. However, a dangerous loophole was added that allows for the governor to unilaterally decide to expand the current Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), sidestepping current laws and processes that limit urban sprawl, allowing it to expand into valuable agricultural land.

Though there are many crucial components that address the existing housing crisis, advocates are stressing the need to prioritize affordable housing within the existing UGBs first and foremost. Oregon’s land use laws and the concept of Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) has protected valuable farmland, they argue, saying that once farmland is lost, we can't get it back. Farmland with close proximity to urban markets supports a robust local food system, benefitting urban residents who gain access to locally grown products and farmers who have ready access to a large customer base.


Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Summer EBT). Part of Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) budget, this program would help nearly 300,000 Oregon children by providing additional money for families during the summer break. While this is not a bill before the legislature, legislative approval of the portion of the ODHS budget for administering half the cost of this program is required in order to unlock the federal dollars that will fund it.

An article in the Oregon Capital Chronicle quoted Jake Sunderland, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Human Services, who said, “The Oregon Food Bank reports that one in five people in the state face hunger. During the summer months, many children in families with food insecurity do not have easy access to the healthy breakfasts and lunches they get at school during the school year.”

Jacki Ward Kehrwald, spokesperson for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, was quoted in the same article. "We really believe this is a no-brainer since the program expenses are all provided federally, and Oregon just needs to invest in half of the setup and administrative costs," she said.

Take action by letting your legislator know you want Oregon to reduce child hunger this summer.


Thanks to Friends of Family Farmers and Oregon Food Bank for their help with information for this post. Top photo from Friends of Family Farmers; UGB photo from Metro; photo of children from Oregon Food Bank.

Legislative Action Alert: Oregon's Small Farms Need Your Help

As the Oregon legislature nears the end of its 2023 session, there are several bills affecting small farmers that need your help to get over the finish line successfully. (Click on the action link at the end of each item.)

Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 3366): This bipartisan program, known as OAHP, helps farmers and ranchers protect their land while keeping it in production, supports rural communities, and helps Oregon leverage unprecedented federal funding. In the first grant cycle, OAHP protected more than 12,400 acres of working land across Oregon. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) requested $10.8 million in grant and administrative funding for the 2023-2025 biennium, but that funding was not included in the Governor's budget. Contact your legislators today and ask them to support this program at the link below.

ACTION LINK: Tell your legislators to fund the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program.


Healthy Soils Bill (HB 2998): This bill leverages federal funding and existing programs to expand resources to support farmers and ranchers with soil health practices that make the most sense for their land and businesses. The Healthy Soils Bill is important in meeting the needs of farmers and ranchers, and addressing the climate crisis. We are at a critical time in the legislative session where funding for many bills, including the Healthy Soils Bill, is being determined. Your advocacy right now could make a real difference for the success of this bill so please contact key legislators to urge them to fund the Healthy Soils Bill.

ACTION LINK: Copy and paste the template provided into an e-mail to tell legislators they need to fund the Healthy Soils Bill.


Canola Bill (SB 789): In a parliamentary move attempting to waylay this bill, the House Ag Committee held a work session resulting in this being moved to the House Rules Committee instead of going to the House Floor for a vote. It is more important than ever that constituents make their voices heard to get this bill passed in this legislative session. We need to maintain the current 500-acre canola cap in the Willamette Valley in order to protect brassica specialty seed production.

ACTION LINK: Tell your legislators they need to act to protect specialty and organic seed production in the Willamette Valley.


Support for Farmers Transitioning to Organic (SB 1058): Oregon is ideally situated to be a leader in the rapidly growing organic industry, which surpassed $60 billion in 2022, but will need to make both public and private investments in order to fully actualize this opportunity. Organic farmers are subject to third party verification, rigorous certification processes, and federal standards that mandate practices which, among other benefits, creates the healthy soils found on organic farms. Certification takes three years and is a considerable economic burden on organic farmers that conventional farmers are not subject to. Given the triple bottom line benefits organic can bring Oregon, investments in organic farming and transitioning to organic are smart policy moves.

ACTION LINK: Copy and paste the letter provided into the template form and let your legislators know it's critical to help grow organic in Oregon.


Thanks to Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF) for these legislative alerts and links.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Take Action to Protect Oregon from Invasive Canola

Canola has a long and sordid history in Oregon going back to 1990, when it was designated as a controlled crop with strict regulations on where it could be grown in the Willamette Valley, because of its habit of cross-pollinating with other crops. And ever since, producers have come back again and again to try to expand the restrictions on its production.

Canola field in Boardman, Oregon.

On July 1, current rules that cap annual canola production at 500 acres in the Willamette Valley expire, and—suprise, surprise—once again canola producers are attempting to roll back that restriction. The Oregon Legislature is considering SB 885, a bill that would maintain the current 500 acre per year cap indefinitely.

Meanwhile, according to Ivan Maluski, Policy director of Friends of Family Farmers, the ODA has announced a newly proposed rule to replace current expiring canola restrictions. "This draft proposal simply falls short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry," Maluski writes. "ODA’s proposal includes no acreage cap, doesn’t explicitly prohibit canola production in a proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves large parts of the Willamette Valley unprotected."

What can you do about it? You can e-mail your legislators and tell them to maintain the current restrictions as outlined in SB 885 (sample letter at bottom). You can also submit e-mail comments on the ODA canola rule by Friday, June 21 at 5 pm (sample text at bottom; written comments can be sent to Sunny Summers, Oregon Department of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. NE, Salem, OR 97301).

Canola blossom.

Why should you bother? Here's what I wrote in 2012:

"The Willamette River, from its headwaters in the Calapooya Mountains outside of Eugene to its confluence with the Columbia north of Portland, forms the base of a long narrow valley that not only contains 70% of the state's population, it's also Oregon's most fertile agricultural area. Averaging only 25 miles wide, the valley's rich volcanic and glacial soil was deposited here by ancient Ice Age flooding and can be half a mile deep in some areas.

"Orchards, vineyards and farmland vie with urban areas for space in its narrow confines, and some crops have been tightly controlled to prevent problems with cross-pollination from the distribution of pollen by the wind, water and dust churned up by traffic along its length. Canola, also known as rapeseed, has been one of those controlled crops and has been regulated in Oregon since 1990.

"Because it is a member of the Brassica family (Brassica napus, B. rapa and B. juncea), it can cross-pollinate with with similar brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips, endangering these valley crops and the farmers who depend on them for their livelihoods. With the bulk of the domestic canola crop also contaminated with GMOs (approx. 93%), this presents a particular threat to organic farmers and seed producers, since current USDA Organic guidelines do not allow for genetically engineered material."

Canola cross-pollinates with many vegetable crops.

The Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) issued a temporary ruling in 2012 to allow planting of the crop in certain formerly protected areas, prompting Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and three Willamette Valley specialty seed producers to file suit to stop the ruling from taking effect. As a result, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the ODA's action, whereupon the ODA filed for a permanent ruling to allow growing of canola, prompting the legislature to pass a ban on the production of canola in most of the valley through 2018. Unfortunately, in 2015 a handful of canola growers unhappy with the previous bill pushed through HB 3382, which authorized 500 acres of commercial canola production per year from 2016 through July of 2019.

What all this means that if you care about being able to buy locally grown, organic, non-GMO produce at the farmers' market or greengrocer's, it would behoove you to write your legislators and submit a comment to the ODA. I've made it simple to do by supplying suggested text (below) that you can copy and paste into your e-mails or letters. (Thanks to FoFF for supplying bullet points).


(Find your legislator here.)

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge you to support SB 885. We must maintain current restrictions on Willamette Valley canola production that expire July 1 in order to protect the region’s important specialty seed industry and the hundreds of farmers, gardeners, and food producers who depend on it.

Thank you,

[your name and address]


(Here's the ODA's e-mail address.)

Dear Director Taylor:

I am writing because the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s draft proposal to address the risks from canola production falls far short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of Oregon’s world-renowned specialty seed industry.

I oppose the draft rule because it includes no acreage cap, doesn’t prohibit canola inside the proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves many Willamette Valley farmers unprotected from the risks associated with canola.

The final rule should include: an acreage cap not to exceed 500 acres per year inside the Willamette Valley Protected District; a clear prohibition on canola production inside the proposed Isolation Area; a larger Isolation Area where no production of canola would be allowed; clear protections for seed farmers outside the proposed Isolation Area; and a clear prohibition on growing herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered varieties of canola.

Thank you,

[your name and address]

Your Food, Your Legislature: Take Action Now on Climate Change; Mega-Dairy Moratorium Fails

On the first day of the 2019 Oregon legislative session in January, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, and there are likely to be at least twice that many by the time the session ends. Here is the latest report on issues affecting the food we put on our tables. Thanks to Friends of Family Farmers for their assistance with this report.

Clean Energy Jobs or Cap-and-Trade (HB 2020): As anyone who's paid attention to the news the last few days knows, there is historic flooding happening in the Willamette Valley, made worse by the effects of climate change. This bill attempts to deal with greenhouse gas emissions from the state's largest emitters of these gases by capping these emissions from most large industrial sources—those that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) per year—effectively putting a price on carbon.

Flooding in Benton County.

Shockingly, the bill exempts the state's largest agricultural producers of greenhouse gases, and your voice is needed to amend the bill to include these factory farms under the cap.

Sign here to send an e-mail to your legislator that Oregon needs to stabilize the climate by reducing industrial and other large sources of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices.

Moratorium on Mega-Dairies (SB 103 and SB 876): Despite efforts on the part of a coalition of 22 health, environmental and animal rights organizations, both of these bills to tighten regulations on factory farm dairies, in part based on the egregious violations and environmental damage from the recent closure of Lost Valley Farm, were voted down in committee.

Toxic emissions into the air are not regulated in Oregon.

“Even the most reasonable reforms were blocked by lobbyists working with these big corporate agribusinesses,” said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, in an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal.

The article goes on to say that Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), maker of Tillamook Cheese, and Threemile Canyon Farms, the Boardman-area factory farm dairy that supplies the bulk of the milk used to make Tillamook's cheese, testified against the bills, saying the entire industry should not be punished for the faults of one bad actor. It also mentions Easterday Farms, based in Pasco, Wash., which purchased Lost Valley Farm, has indicated it will reopen it as a dairy. The facility was previously permitted for as many at 30,000 cows.

Bans Sale or Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides (HB 2619): Originally a statewide ban on the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of powerful neurotoxic pesticides that is lethal to pollinators, this bill was amended to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that has been shown to damage children's brains. It no longer mentions neonicotinoids.

Bill to limit aerial spraying of pesticides failed.

Ban Aerial Spraying of Pesticides (HB 2493): This bill, one of three that dealt with aerial spraying of pesticides, would have prohibited aerial spraying of pesticides of land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley. It died in committee along with the other two bills.

Family Farmer Loan Program (HB 3085): Provides low-interest loans to small and mid-sized farmers for land and equipment, including beginning farmers, is now in the Ways and Means Committee where funding will be decided between now and the end of the session.

Beginning Farmer Incentive Program (HB 3090): Helps beginning farmers with student loan debt and tuition assistance. It passed out of committee and is now in the Ways and Means Committee where funding will be decided between now and the end of the session.

Farmers' market tokens.

Double Up Food Bucks (SB 727A): $3 million in funding for Double Up Food Bucks programming at farmers markets and other farm-direct locations passed the Senate Human Services Committee and is awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

Restrictions on Canola in Willamette Valley (SB 885): Maintains current restrictions on canola production in the Willamette Valley, capped at 500 acres per year and only under permit to protect the region’s specialty vegetable seed industry. Passed out of committee and awaits action in Ways and Means.

Ability to Sue for GMO Contamination (HB 2882): Protects farmers by holding the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially accountable when their products cause economic harm to farmers who experience unwanted contamination. Passed out of committee and moves to the House Rules Committee for further discussion.

Find your legislators and let them know you expect action on the issues that concern you.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Report from the Halfway Mark

On the first day of the 2019 Oregon legislative session in January, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, and there are likely to be at least twice that many by the time the session ends. Here is the latest report on issues affecting the food we put on our tables. Thanks to the Center for Food Safety and Friends of Family Farmers for their assistance with this report.

Moratorium on Mega-Dairies: Introduced by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee to address the impacts of factory farm dairies in Oregon. Take action here. Read more about mega-dairies in Oregon.

  • SB 103: Establishes a moratorium on new "industrial" dairies—defined as those over 2,500 cows or large dairies that don't provide seasonal access to pasture—while making sure environmental impacts to water and air, as well as impacts to smaller farms, are considered when permitting these operations.
  • SB 104: Allows stronger local rules over siting of these industrial facilities.

Management of Future Mega-Dairies: Two bills emerged from a work group organized by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

  • SB 876: Creates a two-step permitting process for large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to ensure greater scrutiny before they go into operation.
  • SB 886: Sets limits (not yet specified) on the use of groundwater for watering livestock at large confined animal feeding operations. 
  • HB 3083: Establishes a "Task Force on Large-Scale Dairy Farms" which would submit a report to the Legislature by September, 2020.

"Clean Energy Jobs" or Cap-and-Trade (HB 2020): Establishes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest emitters—except for agriculture and forestry, two large sources of emissions and industries heavily represented by lobbyists in the Capitol—while creating an ‘allowance’ program intended to generate funding for climate adaptation and other programs. Public interest and small farm organizations are working to include agriculture and forestry in this bill.

Ban Aerial Spraying of Pesticides (HB 2493): Prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides of land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley.

Ability to Sue for GMO Contamination (HB 2882): Allows farmers who have been harmed by contamination from genetically engineered crops to sue the patent holders of those crops.

Bans Sale or Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides (HB 2619): Statewide ban on the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of powerful neurotoxic pesticides that is lethal to pollinators.

Beginning Farmer & Family Farmer Land Access: Three bills that would support new and existing small farmers have been sent to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources with a hearing set for 3 pm on Thursday, March 14. E-mail a letter of support for all three before that date (link for address and suggested verbiage).

  • HB 3085: Creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program managed by the state’s economic development agency, Business Oregon, to offer direct loans to family-scale farmers and beginning family farmers for land or equipment.
  • HB 3090: Establishes a new beginning farmer and rancher incentive program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture focused on issues of student loan and tuition assistance.
  • HB 3091: Reduces fees and costs to borrowers using the state’s existing "Aggie Bonds" beginning farmer loan program, which incentivizes private lower interest lending to beginning farmers and ranchers for land and equipment.

Beginning Farmer Tax Credit (HB 3092): Incentivizes landowners to lease land to beginning farmers and ranchers. Sent to the House Revenue Committee.

Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 2729): Provides $10 million in grants for farm succession planning and funding for both long term conservation planning and protection for working farmland at risk of development or conversion to non-farm uses.

Limits on GMO Canola in the Willamette Valley (HB 3026; SB 885; HB 3219): A 500-acre restriction on growing this crop is expiring in July, 2019. These bills seek to extend that limitation going forward because canola easily cross-pollinates with food crops in the brassica family, endangering organic growers and specialty seed growers. Contact your legislators here. More info on canola in Oregon.

Find your legislators here and let them know you expect action on the issues that concern you.