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Debate over canola continues to rage in Salem

Last month, the ODA submitted a report to the Legislature outlining several alternatives for regulating canola in the Willamette Valley.

EO MEDIA GROUP - Farmers in the Willamette Valley have long fought over rules regulating the cultivation of canola.The Oregon Department of Agriculture will not seek additional authority to regulate canola during next year's legislative session.

Farmers in the Willamette Valley have been fighting over the crop for years. It's relatively easy to grow and there's a ready market for canola seeds, which are pressed into cooking oil. But farmers who grow vegetable seeds — a high-value crop that requires genetic purity — have long argued that their fields could be easily contaminated by cross pollination from canola.

The debate has spilled over into legislative hearings on more than one occassion.

Last month, the ODA submitted a report to the Legislature outlining several alternatives for regulating canola in the valley.

Two of those options would have required lawmakers to vest ODA with more authority, including limiting canola acreage and developing a public "pinning" map system to avoid cross-pollination with related crops.

During a Dec. 19 meeting in Salem, Ore., however, the agency's leaders said they had not submitted such proposals to the Legislature.

"We really don't want to have this discussion at the Capitol," said Lisa Hanson, ODA's deputy director.

Instead, the agency will pursue rules under ODA's existing powers, which will likely include an "exclusion zone" where canola will be more tightly regulated.

"We're doing this to bring certainty to all growers on all sides in the valley," said Alexis Taylor, ODA's director.

The new rules would be intended to ensure canola regulation doesn't "fall off a cliff" when the existing Legislature-mandated 500-acre cap on canola production expires in July 2019, said Taylor.

There's been a lot of legislative interest in canola in the past, though, so it's possible lawmakers may nonetheless pass legislation next year that will point ODA in a different direction, she said. "They will do with that what they will."