Canola Rape Seed FAQ's

Why are farmers concerned about rapeseed/canola being planted in the Willamette Valley?

•    See our document What’s the Issue with Canola? for a summary of their concerns.

Which farmers are worried about canola?

•    An extremely diverse group of farmers are concerned about canola.  They include vegetable seed, clover seed, fresh market vegetable growers, and even some wheat and grass seed farmers.  

Why is it fair to restrict what people can plant?

•    Across the U.S., certain crops are restricted that can cause serious harm to other, necessary crops.  Canola is an example of one of these.  Brassica seed (i.e. cabbage, broccoli, mustard, turnips, kale, etc) are best grown in the Willamette Valley, OR, and the Skagit Valley, WA. In fact, those valleys grow most of the World’s Brassica seed, with the Willamette Valley out-producing the Skagit Valley significantly.  Canola is restricted in both valleys.  Seed potatoes are also restricted in the Skagit Valley.

•    The Skagit Valley even has legal requirements of isolation for any Brassica seed grower within their main production area.  In the Willamette Valley, members of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association (WVSSA) voluntarily isolate their crops in a cooperative effort.

Is this a GMO issue?

•    Concerned farmers want the public to know that any canola – including conventional canola- will harm their crops and sales.  Canola crosses with other Brassicas, including the wild mustard that is currently a roadside weed in Oregon.  Unfortunately, most canola is contaminated with GM canola, further complicating the matter.  The Oregon Dept of Agriculture makes no delineation between GM canola and conventional canola – but seed buyers do.  Conventional and GM canola are both harmful to Oregon’s lucrative seed and vegetable industries.

Has canola harmed any other farming regions?

•    Yes.  Seed buyers and growers from around the world have shared their experiences about the introduction of canola into their seed-growing regions.   In the “Review of Canola Literature” by Carol Mallory-Smith, James Meyers, Michael Quinn, Oregon State University,  the following was stressed:

“Very few other regions of the world have the climate to produce high quality Brassica vegetable seed. In fact, western Washington and Oregon combined produce nearly all (>90%) of the European cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga and turnip seed, and a substantial portion (20 – 30 %) of radish, Chinese cabbage and other oriental Brassica vegetable crops.”

Other countries such as France and Australia have had their seed growing regions destroyed by canola in exactly the same way.  Seed specialists from Japan and Germany have told Oregon’s crop scientists “You have a gem there, don’t blow it.”

Doesn’t  the ODA rule have a contained transport requirement for the seed?  Won’t that rule control the spread of canola?

Unfortunately, the experiences of other growing regions have shown that canola is not controllable.

•    The canola transport containment requirement in the ODA rule is not enough to prevent contamination in other fields.  The seedpods frequently shatter when ripe, leading to a large amount of escaped seed in fields.  These small, round seeds easily travel with flooding and along roadside ditches.   

•    Genetically-modified “Round Up Ready” canola creates a further complication.   According to a Dec. 21, 2010 article in the Western Farm Press recent research shows that “glyphosate resistance makes canola a new difficult California weed.”  Being resistant to the herbicide allows GM canola to survive glyphosate herbicidal applications –  this takes away a cost-effective tool farmers  and road crew can use to control volunteer canola plants.1

•    Canola/rapeseed meal is the crushed canola seed byproduct of oil extraction.  It has a secondary use in Oregon dairies and feedlots.  Not all of the canola seed is crushed during processing, and some survives in the cattle’s manure.  This seed can then sprout in unexpected areas.

•    Canola is bee-pollinated, so Brassica contamination will also occur through cross-pollination.  Bees fly up to 5 miles when searching for nectar.  A trait of honeybees is that they prefer to visit the same types of plants on one trip.  This allows pollination to happen.  For example, if honeybees flew from an apple tree, then to a cherry tree, and then back to the hive to unload the pollen, the very different trees would not get pollinated.  

Nature has taken care of this problem – bees naturally want to visit the same type of plant on their foraging trips, enabling pollination.  Canola is a Brassica and shares genetics with many of the edible Brassicas grown for seed and food in Oregon.  Unfortunately, bees to not discriminate between these types of extremely similar plants, leading to unwanted cross-pollination.

•    Canola is host to several diseases that affect other Brassica species, clover and wheat.  Canola is also a vector for several insect pests that affect other Brassicas.  Since seeds produce very little oil individually, oilseed production requires huge stands of the crop to be grown.  Vast monocultures unintentionally “raise” unusually large populations of harmful insects.  When the monoculture crop is harvested, that large population of hungry insects need to find a new host.  This insect migration spreads disease and insect problems to nearby fields.

Don’t Brassicas already cross?  Why are they allowed to be grown?

•    The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association (WVSSA) is a cooperative, member-guided organization of seed companies who follow agreed upon isolation guidelines.  These isolation guidelines give a type of seniority to farmers who are growing certain crops, allowing farmers to take turns growing crops in different areas.  The WVSSA members paid for the creation of a sophisticated map to “pin” the location of a proposed crop, and follow the WVSSA  isolation guidelines and pinning rules to isolate their crops and not cause other members harm.

•    The proposed ODA rule only requires pinning, not isolation.  This has caused much confusion to the public.  Pinning  (showing others the location of your crop) alone does not protect farmers from contamination.  Typically, a farmer who wants to grow a crop prone to cause or experience contamination will contract a crop with a member of the WVSSA, and participate in the protection of all members.  The farmers wishing to grow oilseeds did not choose that approach.  Instead, they’ve asked the ODA to override the current canola protections.

Don’t people eat canola, too?

This is not the type of canola meant for human consumption.  The type of canola to be planted here for oilseed can also be called “rapeseed”.  Rapeseed/canola is an oilseed crop aimed for primary use in the Oregon biofuel industry for the production of biodiesel, with a secondary use as a cheap feedstock for dairy cows.  Should we be eating canola (oil)?  Click HERE to learn more...

Don’t animals eat canola?

•    Animals, like dairy cows, are fed the canola meal (the byproduct of expressing the oil).  This is another method of canola escape, as not all seeds are destroyed during the crushing process or by the cow’s stomachs.  Some seed passes through the animal and contaminates dairy fields and manure lagoons.

•    Other animals, such as goats, can be surprisingly picky eaters.  Many goat farmers report that their animals will not eat feed contaminated with strong- flavored weed seed, such as mustard or canola.  Feed contamination is another way canola can find its way into new fields.

Can canola pests affect my home garden?

•    Unfortunately, the same pests do affect home gardens.  Home gardeners in canola growing regions face increased insect pest pressure from nearby canola fields.  Though it’s an added expense, some home gardeners suggest growing Brassica crops under row covers year-round to help manage the pest problem.

Are there alternatives are available instead of canola/rapeseed?

•    There are other planting options that will serve the crop rotation need of grass farmers by breaking the pest cycle.  OSU and Washington State have both researched the viability of camelina as an alternative oilseed crop.  Camelina has traditionally been grown without the use of pesticides, which could reduce farmers’ production costs.   Farms around Oregon are currently participating in a program called the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) through the Farm Service Agency (FSA).  Harvest and growing results from those farmers should be available later this year.

•    Canola is also currently allowed in areas of Eastern Oregon, where it can be grown without causing the same harm to other farmers.  Concerned Willamette Valley farmers would like to encourage the use of other options and growing areas, rather than harm our critical food-and-seed-growing regions.

How can I support our farmers?

•    Fill out and submit our Public Testimony Questionnaire by Nov. 2nd.  Click here to open to the public testimony page.

Tell Governor Kitzhaber that you don’t want canola contaminating your farmers’ crops. Click here to email Governor Kitzhaber.
Click here to facebook Governor Kitzhaber.

Tell the biofuels, dairy, grass seed and wheat industries that you don’t want canola contaminating your farmers’s crops.

Click here to email Pacific Biodiesel.
Click here to facebook Pacific Biodiesel.

Encourage biofuels industries to support an alternative to rapeseed/canola, such as camelina.  Two of Oregon’s biofuels producers already utilize this seed.  It’s not new, it’s simply been underpromoted.

1Seed bank persistence of genetically modified canola in California. 29 December 2011; Douglas J. Munier, Kent L. Brittan, W. Thomas Lanini