OSU canola study informs policymakers amid debate among seed growers

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In February 2013, the ODA allowed canola to be grown in a protected area in the Willamette Valley. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)
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ODA asks OSU to see if canola can grow in Willamette Valley without pollinating other crops

A dispute is brewing in the Willamette Valley. Grass-seed farmers want to grow canola, a rotation crop that can be turned into food and fuel. But vegetable-seed farmers fear that canola, a member of the Brassica family, will pollinate some of their crops and make them genetically impure and unmarketable.

What's at stake is the valley's $25 million a year Brassica seed industry. There's also the attractive canola market, which brought in $357 million for U.S. farmers in 2011.

So the Oregon Department of Agriculture asked OSU for science-based answers. In field trials, researchers found that canola seeds stay viable in the soil for two or three years, raising the risk that canola could become a weed in subsequent crops or along roadsides and waterways. OSU concluded that for the time being, canola shouldn't be grown in the valley. In a later report, researchers also found that pollen from a large field of genetically engineered canola could overwhelm a small planting of, say, Siberian kale.

Allowed east of the Cascades, Oregon farmers harvested 6,900 acres of canola in 2012.

Sources: Oregon Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service; and OSU weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith

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