Saturday, August 18, 2012

Canola Controversy: A Voice from the Field

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm speaks out about the temporary ruling allowing canola to be grown in previously protected areas of the Willamette Valley. Why should you take the time to read it? Because understanding issues affecting the integrity of the food we feed our families is important for us city folk, and listening to those closest to the issue, at ground level, so to speak, is one of the best ways to do that.

From time to time, we have written about the robust and internationally recognized specialty seed industry in the Willamette Valley. This year, on the north border of our farm is 20 acres of open-pollinated Bull's Blood beet, the subject of a once and future essay. On our western boundary there is approximately 40 acres of hybrid spinach. The beets and spinach are grown for the Danish seed company, Vikima. Down the road a ways, there is another large field with radish for cover crop seed. This radish is used by Midwestern farmers to open up compacted soil, improving the soil and saving fuel when they prepare for planting. The crimson clover seed on our southern boundary was harvested last month, and will be planted by farmers to provide organic nitrogen for next crop. The production of synthetic nitrogen requires a huge amounts of natural gas, and is even damaging to the environment when it is applied to the fields.

Canola blossom.

In an effort to maintain the integrity of the valley's seed production, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has a quarantine on rapeseed/canola production in the valley. Earlier this month, the ODA announced that it is altering the quarantine on the first of September and issued "temporary rules" developed without public input or hearing. In fact, it was announced during the busiest time of the year for the affected farmers, a really ugly single digit gesture from an agency with "agriculture" in its name. As it would affect our on-farm seed production, we have joined with others in asking Director Coba to suspend the rule. Fortunately, Friends of Family Farmers has gained a temporary stay on the temporary rule from the Court of Appeals. There is a lot of interesting information about the canola issue at the Friends of Family Farmers website [link here].

We have supported the Friends of Family Farmers for several years, and we are deeply appreciative for their willingness to pursue ODA on this terrible and destructive proposal. Deep in its culture, the ODA is a brittle agency that prefers to work behind closed doors with no public input. The agency is riddled with apparatchiks more comfortable in the back room with industry lobbyists than in a public meeting with farmers and consumers. Written without the input of the affected farmers, this temporary rule is a complete mess, imposing on small farms like ours all sorts of unnecessary rules governing our own seed production. They even assert the authority to destroy our seed crop if we fail to comply with all their rules. We need Friends of Family Farmers help and, we are happy to say, they are there for us.

In the state fair exhibition of advocates for better farm policies, Friends of Family Farmers would win the treasured tricolor, Best in Show, hands down. They have emerged as a national model for this sort of organization, and when friends ask if you have heard of their director Michele Knaus, you can nonchalantly say you see her shopping at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, even on the snowy days of winter. No empty rhetoric there. Any support you can give them, moral or money, will be greatly appreciated by us and other family farms.

Read the other posts in this series, Oily Process: Canola Needs Closer Look, Canola Controversy Heats Up, More on Canola: Stakeholders File Suit, Despite Decision, It's Not Over, ODA Caves to Canola, "Write Right Now", Seeding Change and Legislature Passes Ban.

Top photo of canola field in Boardman, Oregon.

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