Oregon is one of the top five specialty seed growing regions in the world. This unique heritage should be protected and expanded. Unfortunately, the potential introduction of thousands of acres of canola could threaten this legacy, as can further genetically engineered (GE) contamination. Other seed growing regions that have allowed extensive canola cultivation have experienced reductions in the varieties of specialty seed crops that they can grow, as well increased cross contamination issues. For example, radish seed can no longer be grown in Europe—only Oregon and New Zealand
Large-scale canola cultivation poses unique threats to the specialty seed industry in Oregon for several reasons:
- Specialty seed needs robust purity—canola for oil does not, thus putting a greater burden on the specialty seed grower to fence out canola contamination.
- Increased pest and disease pressures (and while this is true of any brassicaceae crop, the risks rise with increased acreage. Specialty seed acreage is arguably less than what is desired by commercial canola production and doesn’t pose as intense a threat.)
- Strong volunteerism - it is difficult to control volunteer canola plants, which can spread easily.
- Seed banking - canola seed can remain in fields for several years, even after the canola has been harvested.
- Various cross pollination concerns--seed purity and GE.
- It is becoming increasingly difficult to find “clean” GE-free canola seed. For example, in February of 2019 farmers in France and Germany had to rip out thousands of acres of canola fields because the sowed seed was sold as non-GE but was determined to be contaminated with GE-varieties as well.
- There is a growing need for organic, non-GMO seed. Oregon has the potential to contribute to this, as long as the right protections in place.
- The U.S. organic seed market for crops was worth more than $460 million in 2015 and is predicted to reach $5.4 billion by the year 2024. However, the supply for organic seed is insufficient. Ensuring protections for organic seed growers could be a major economic opportunity for Oregon. Organic seed can yield between $10K and $50K an acre; GE seed only $1000 an acre. Canola, at best, yields $1500 an acre.
- Organic seed grower Frank Morton submitted this excellent testimony to Oregon Dept. of Agriculture and it offer a deep dive into why large scale canola production should be kept out of the Willamette Valley.
Limiting the threat of GE contamination through maintaining a cap on canola acreage is also important to seed growers in other parts of Oregon, like the Rogue Valley. Many farmers in southern Oregon source seeds from the Willamette Valley. Further, GE contamination could drift from northern to southern Oregon, endangering seed growers in the south.
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