UPDATE: Despite many requests and close to 20,000 petition signatures, the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued temporary rules yesterday opening up canola production in the Willamette Valley. Friends of Family Farmers has more info and links here.
UPDATE II: The Oregonian has a fairly balanced article with quotes from principals and more background. You can read it here.
UPDATE III: An Editorial from seed Grower Frank Morton, here.
UPDATE IV: Score one for the good fight, according to Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with the arguments set forth by Friends of Family Farmers and four other plaintiffs, finding it very likely that the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA’s) temporally rule is invalid. The push for canola in the valley is far from over, more details are available here from FFF.
Normally, our Friday blog post is dedicated to upcoming Markets: Hours, events, what is in season, what to do with the bounty of NW’s agricultural goodness, but today’s post is about canola. Not because any of our farmers or growers sell bushels of the commodity scale crop formerly known as rapeseed oil, rather because Oregon Department of Agriculture is considering sidestepping rules to end gridlock over a boundary map of where canola can be grown in the Willamette Valley – The ODA usually has a 30 day period for comments and consideration when they are set to change rules and policy, but they are contemplating changing the canola growing area via temporary rule today, August 10th.
So why is there a canola growing area? Canola is a promiscuous little devil, a brassica, a member of the mustard/cabbage/turnip/cauliflower family, it will cross breed with any and all of it’s cousins and this will be a problem for Willamette Valley’s seed growers. The Valley is a unique area whose climate and human capital have made it a prime seed growing area for over a century. The seed packets you get for your garden, the massive vigorous seeds used by large scale planters to grow crops for grocery stores, comes from the $34 million industry based in the Valley. Canola, a crop that is being expanded for use in biofuels, is putting over a 100 years of Oregon based knowledge, a unique biosystem and a major Oregon industry at risk. A person can be for biofuels and for Oregon seed growers at the same time, the question is – Does canola need to be grown in the what is considered to be one of the last remaining premiere seed producing areas in the world?
In addition to the threat of cross-contamination, canola mono-cropping also brings the threat of pests that are currently absent from the Valley. Much of the canola crop is genetically engineered, a complicated issue onto itself, but there are two things two keep in mind with the issue of GE (genetically engineered) and GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) crops. One, the term organic excludes GEs and GMOs, so a farm that works hard to remain pesticide free, can lose their certification if their crops are cross-contaminated. Two, the company that holds the patents for much of the GE Canola seed has a history of suing individual farmers when their GE seed or crops turns up on land, even if the seed has fallen off a truck and cross-bred or volunteered on a family farm’s land. Given the resources backing a multinational corporation, these stories never end David and Golith style.
PFM has signed a petition asking the ODA to abide by its own rules. You can join Slow Food, Gathering Together Farms, Friends of Family Farmers and others by clicking and electronically signing this petition. Or please, politely email or call ODA director Katy Coba: (503-986-4552, firstname.lastname@example.org) or call Oregon Governor Kitzhaber’s office (503-378-4582) with your concerns: That the department abide by its own lawful rules and adhere to the transparency that comes with good governance, to respect the Valley’s unique culture as a seed proiagator and to protect the majority of Oregon’s family farmers from pest infestion, crop contamination and possible litigation.
Special thanks to Friends of Family Farmers, who do such great work each and every day, for keeping us abreast of these developments. You can keep track of the canola story, one that is both important and not exactly headline news by visiting the FoFF website.