Biofuel Debate Comes to Oregon

The debate over biofuel and organic agriculture is threatening to upset the agricultural balance in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, some farmers say, threatening the region’s crop production and jeopardizing organic farmers’ way of life.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which extends from Portland, Oregon in the north to Eugene, Oregon in the south, contains most of the state’s population. In addition to housing the bulk of the state’s residents, it is also one of the most fertile regions in Oregon, providing most of the state’s agricultural production.

In addition to standard food production, Willamette is home to most of Oregon’s specialty seed production. These farmers grow vegetables in order to ship the seeds worldwide. Organic farmers in particular claim that this is a very delicate business and that even small intrusions or disruptions can wreak havoc on their operations.

The fight brewing in Willamette revolves around whether to allow canola production in the valley. Currently, the state has banned canola growth in an exclusion zone stretching 3.7 million acres. The Department of Agriculture, however, is considering reducing that zone to 1.7 million acres.

Organic farmers say there is a significant risk of cross-contamination, which could permanently cripple the specialty seed industry. In addition, they are portraying canola farmers as pushy, with a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety stating, “It’s just this one area that’s being protected for many very good reasons. It’s not like Oregon or anywhere else is saying you can’t grow your canola. It’s one area.”

Canola growers, however, claim that the risk of cross-contamination is minimal and that organic farmers are overreacting.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer