Canola Restrictions Approved in WA State
By Cookson Beecher
February 15, 2008
Rule designed to protect vegetable-seed crops from cross-pollination
"It's a big step." That's how Milo Lyons, production manager of Alf Christianson Seed Co., described a new rule that sets up special seed-production districts to protect vegetable-seed crops from being cross-pollinated with canola oilseed crops grown for biofuels.
The rule is the outcome of concerns that genetic crosses between the two seed crops would lower the quality and value of the state's vegetable-seed crops, known worldwide for their purity and quality.
Another concern is that because canola is genetically modified, cross-pollination with the vegetable-seed crops would result in the loss of two important markets - Japan and Europe.
In short, cross-pollination could wipe out a lucrative industry that has long been established in Washington state.
"It's vital for the vegetable seed industry to set up rules and isolation distances," Lyons said. "The industry supports a lot of farmers. It's important to maintain the buyers' perception that this is a good area to grow vegetable seed crops."
Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation - with a unanimous vote in both houses - that gave the Washington State Agriculture Department the go-ahead to draft a rule setting up special districts.
Officially called brassica seed production districts, they are sometimes referred to as canola-free zones.
Brassica crops include cabbage, broccoli, rutabaga, kohlrabi and canola.
The department adopted the rule after gathering public comments during meetings in Mount Vernon and Moses Lake. The rule will go into effect Feb. 24.
In crafting the rule, the department worked with the Brassica Working Group, which included vegetable-seed growers, canola oilseed growers and biodiesel manufacturers.
In addition to establishing two districts - one on each side of state - the rule also specifies general requirements within the districts.
In essence, it establishes isolation distances - in many cases, two miles - between vegetable-seed and canola-seed crops.
Now that the districts have been established, no one can plant a canola crop within a district unless conditions of a special brassica production agreement are met.
These requirements, which apply only to the two production districts, differ within the two districts.
Snohomish County grower Dale Reiner, who has grown canola oilseed for the past several years, said he supports the new rule. "I'm certainly not interested in putting neighboring farmers and crops in jeopardy," he said. "Doing this (the rule) is the responsible thing to do. It protects all of us."
He also said the rule will help foster better relations between the vegetable-seed growers and the canola growers.
"The vegetable seed growers were suffering real angst over this," he said, referring to fears about possible cross-pollination of the two crops.
Steven Verhey, founding chief executive manager of Central Washington Biodiesel in Ellensburg and a member of the Brassica Working Group, currently buys canola oil from Natural Selection Farm in Sunnyside.
"It's obviously extremely important to protect the vegetable-seed industry," he said. "But it's also important to balance that with the rights of farmers to grow what they want to grow. I think the final rule did a good job of achieving that balance."