Oregon agency hopes to allow canola fields in Willamette Valley

After its initial plan to allow the farming of canola in the Willamette Valley was blocked by an appeals court, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has prepared a new proposal and hopes to move forward with widespread production of the valuable plant. It is unclear whether the new measure will effectively resolve the land use dispute.

Although canola has long been prohibited in the Willamette Valley, due to concerns regarding pests and unintended cross-pollination with other plants, the plant can be pressed into an oil for use in renewable fuels. This has made increased production of canola attractive to both farmers and environmental advocates, putting pressure on Oregon officials to remove some of restrictions against the plant.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture proposed reducing the area where canola is banned by 50 percent in 2011, but an appeals court prevented that plan from moving forward. In response, the agency has produced a new plan that more explicitly limits production of canola. While the previous proposal did not set a maximum number of acres in a canola plot, the new plan would limit fields to 2,500; it would also require them to be at least three miles from plots containing seeding vegetables in order to prevent cross-pollination.

Because many farmers are still concerned by the plan, the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association would be granted the authority to deny or approve any fields hoping to grow canola plants. However, a company hoping to press canola into oil at its Oregon plant said that rule gives an unfair amount of power to seed farmers who want to stop canola production. The firm's vice president said that while he believes the rule is a good idea in theory, it needs "to be functional."

Other advocates for canola contend that it can easily co-exist with more sensitive crops if appropriate control measures are implemented, with some even arguing that it could be used as a rotational crop to help address pests and plant disease.

Source: Oregon Live, "Oregon Department of Agriculture presses plan to allow canola production in Willamette Valley," Dec. 18, 2012

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