Hank’s letter to Legislators regarding House Bill 2427: Willamette Valley Canola Ban

I just wrote 14 legislators that might hear this bill in committee. You can too! It is important now because the Farm Bureau has come out pro-canola. Feel free to use all or part of this message. See below for details on who to contact.

Please support House Bill 2427: Willamette Valley Canola Ban

My name is Hank Keogh. I was born and raised in Oregon, and I am now an organic vegetable seed farmer. I support legislation to prohibit the production of canola in the Willamette Valley.

We need a hearing on this canola ban bill because the Oregon Department of Agriculture has done a very poor job of handling the issue, incurring lawsuits from seed farmers, and ignoring research on the impacts of canola paid for by taxpayers and conducted by Oregon State University. In addition, planting time for canola is coming. If no action is taken to prevent this, canola will be planted and begin to spread and contaminate our crops.

Canola is a big problem for three different agricultural industries in Oregon: Specialty Vegetable Seeds worth $50 million, Fresh Vegetables at $30 million, and Clover Seed at $20 million. Canola directly crosses with seed crops, incubates and spreads pests and diseases to neighboring fresh vegetable and seed fields, and also contaminates clover seed through physical seed mixing. Canola is a subsidized commodity crop and adequate control measures would make it unprofitable. These three established industries, with a combined annual value of $100 million are being threatened by the possibility of canola worth less than $3 million. There is no co-existence.

Specialty vegetable seed is an established industry that pays healthy taxes and creates and keeps good jobs. Canola is subsidized $.05 per pound and requires minimal labor.

I am a farmer and the Farm Bureau does NOT represent me on this issue.

Please support a ban on canola in the Willamette Valley.

Thank you,

Hank Keogh

Senate Rural Communities and Economic Development

Arnie Roblan, Chair
Herman Baertschiger Jr., Vice-Chair
Ginny Burdick (Senate President Pro Tempore)
Betsy Close
Floyd Prozanski

House Agriculture and Natural Resources

Brad Witt, Chair
Sal Esquivel, Vice-Chair
Caddy McKeown, Vice-Chair
Brian Clem
Wayne Krieger
Jeff Reardon
Jim Thompson
Ben Unger
Gail Whitsett

Find your senators’ emails here: http://www.leg.state.or.us/senate/
Find you representatives’ emails here: http://www.leg.state.or.us/house/

Canola comment September 28, 2012

(A repost of my original opinion because the ODA has not changed its position despite TWO public hearings, cautionary scientific evidence, and overwhelming economic impact. -H)

September 28, 2012
Director Coba, Governor Kitzhaber, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture:

I was born and raised in Oregon. I went to Oregon State University and received a B.S. in Horticulture. I am a young vegetable seed farmer. At my farm I grow organic specialty vegetable seeds on contract for Wild Garden Seeds. I intend to be part of the specialty seed industry in the Willamette Valley for the rest of my professional life. With so many aging farmers in America, and so few young farmers stepping up to grow food for people, why would the ODA choose to irreversibly limit opportunity for young farmers in Oregon? I can’t afford hundreds of acres and the equipment to manage it to grow a low value commodity crop, but I can afford a few acres and small equipment to grow high value specialty seed crops. Ten years from now young farmers like me will be creating a lot of jobs. Where will the canola bubble be ten years from now after the biofuel subsidy goes away and grass seed prices return to normal? I urge the ODA to make the sustainable choice and preserve this unique valley for future generations of farmers in Oregon.
Canola for oilseed cannot coexist with specialty seeds. Canola is a low value, subsidized commodity crop grown in massive acreage with minimal management, while specialty seeds are high value, independently successful, focused on quality and purity. The inevitable contamination would be irrelevant to canola for oilseed production, but would devastate the specialty vegetable seed industry, worth over $50 million annually, as well as the clover seed industry, worth over $15 million.
Who is responsible when just a few seeds somehow escape from a theoretically sealed transport truck and end up in populations along roadsides, miles away from the farm that produced them? Whose job is it to pin the canola fields of today for years and years into the future as canola seeds continue to sprout out of secondary dormancy? (Munier et. all 2011) Who is responsible for the flood waters like the massive floods this valley experienced this spring, that carry seeds to hundreds of acres downstream of the original field? The ODA’s provincial enforcement rules only apply to a quarter mile radius around current year fields, making them largely useless. The thin profit margin of canola would make it economically impossible for growers to control all their escaped plants. However, not controlling the spread of canola would economically cripple the specialty seed industry. Financial responsibility for the ODA’s misguided rule would be decided in court between farmers. Two farms, both alike in dignity, would drag each other down to bankruptcy. Canola would be a plague upon this valley, and I oppose the change to the canola exclusion zone.
Hank Keogh

Mnemonic Advice


Our little way of remembering how to identify a lettuce plant marked for planting stock selection:

When you come to a plant near a flag,
Look to the north for a tag.
If a shadow is cast,
You’ve found it at last,
Now shake that seed in a bag!

Organic Seed Conference 2012

The WGS crew has recently returned from a weekend retreat with our organic seed comrades. The Organic Seed Alliance hosted their 6th organic seed conference in Port Townsend, Washington. It was three days of tall talk and three nights of smoky scotch whiskey. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Prime your peas!
    A study comparing the effects of several different seed treatments for damping off in peas showed that simply soaking the peas in good ol’ water overnight, with occasional agitation, followed by a quick dry before seeding was more effective at reducing damping off than a host of branded commercial seed treatments. The presenter, Lindsey du Toit of Washington State University, went on to note that the USDA has standards of review for the acute toxicity and environmental impact of new chemicals, but has no standards for whether or not they actually work. We don’t need any of these bogus products for our seeds. This spring, soak your peas like your grandmother did. Get real, get a bowl of water.
  2. Get off your corn cob!
    Bill Tracy of the University of Wisconsin told us a surprising story about corn genetics and the “green” revolution. When scientists finally had the right genetic analysis tools, they compared corn from before and after the green revolution to see what caused the dramatic increase in yield that conventional agriculture is always crowing about. They were expecting to find more chloroplasts or some kind of enhanced protein synthesis. To their surprise, they found a slight difference in leaf angle, and a shorter tassle length. That’s it. Mainly there were just more plants per acre, and corn plants with more upright leaves could be crammed closer together. Now we have the same corn that is slightly adapted to living in a corn city, and we grind it up to feed to cows living in cow cities, and we grind them up to feed people living in people cities. We don’t need all that unhealthy processing in our food system. Chew for yourself. Get real. Get fresh sweet corn on the cob.
  3. Get Radical!
    It’s not enough to be right, said Eric Holt-Gimenez from the Food First Institute. We can lobby Congress all day long to throw us a bone from the Farm Bill, but it won’t do any good if we don’t have the political power, the will of the people behind us. Don’t waste time persuading politicians, convince the audience: the people. Dr. Holt-Gimenez told the story of his work in the early days of la Via Campesina. Together the farmers of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua did a massive study comparing two thousand organic and conventional farms spread across the three countries hit hard by hurricane Mitch in 1998. Their meticulously collected data showed that peasant farms practicing organic methods were more resistant and resilient than their conventional neighbors. They were right, but the World Bank had the power. Instead of supporting the burgeoning organic peasant farming movement, the World Bank decided to build a network of roads and sweatshops that ultimately crushed the movement and moved thousands off the land. No change can come from a movement without power. Get real. Transform what power is.
  4. Stand together, brand together!
    Adam Butler, cofounder of Butler Bros, a values led advertising company, showed us some numbers about industry spending on advertising. The orange juice industry spends millions of dollars annually to convince people to drink more OJ. Monsanto spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually telling us all how wonderful biotechnology is for feeding a growing planet. The organic industry spends zero dollars on any advertising. Mr. Butler’s point was not that we rush out and buy up some TV ads, but that we as a movement and a profession could us a little public relations help. He proposed combining a brand logo with a values statement that would unify our movement and help to explain what we stand for. The organic seed industry has the Safe Seed Pledge; perhaps the organic food industry needs a Safe Veg Pledge. What we can’t do is continue to allow Monsanto and its minions to dominate the global food conversation. The power is in the people, and we need to take our side of the conversation directly to them. Get real. Talk organic.

Geurilla Farming

It’s been a wet spring again here, and we’re taking organic matters into our own hands. We had a new idea to use my electric cultivating tractor with a modified toolbar to open furrows and draw lines. In two weeks we’ll come back and clean up our mess.

We have to get our crops in early so they have enough time to complete their life cycle and make seeds before the rains start in fall.

Seven Steps to Fair Farming (N.O.C.)

National Organic Coalition
845-744-2304; email: Liana@NationalOrganicCoalition.org


(With Wild Garden commentary from the Organicology conference.)

Prior to any de-regulation of new genetically-engineered crops, or discussions of “Co-Existence” of GE and non-GE, the following 7 points must be addressed transparently and fairly (for all stakeholders involved). See NOC’s Contamination Prevention Plan for details: http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/GMO/GMOContaminationPrevention.pdf
1. Establish a USDA Public Breeds Institute to ensure that the public has access to high quality non-GMO breeds and germplasm. (The farmers say: “All the ‘good’ corn varieties are GE.”)

2. Create a Contamination Compensation Fund [see NOC’s Draft proposal at: http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/GEAlfalfa/ProposedCompensationPlan.pdf] , funded by GMO patent holders, to provide immediate assistance to persons contaminated by GMOs, from seed to table. (The farmers say: “Conventional and organic farmers absorb buffer zone and screw up costs”)

3. Complete elimination of deregulated GM crop status, including prior deregulations, with on-going oversight and public evaluation of compliance and enforcement. (The farmers say: “If it’s deregulated, USDA considers it safe and not it’s problem.”)

4. Conduct comprehensive, independent, longitudinal studies on the health, environmental, and socio-economic impacts of GMOs, prior to GM crop approvals. (The farmers say: “When reviewing GM crops, the FDA uses data provided by the company, not from independent research.”)

5. Prohibit the growing of promiscuous GM crops that are likely to cause GMO contamination.

6. Prevent food security risks associated with the concentration of our food system in the hands of a few companies.

7. Institute an immediate labeling protocol for all GM crops, products, and ingredients. (The farmers say: “This is where YOU can help. Call your representatives, create clamor for GMO labeling. A recent poll says 86% of Americans support labeling of GM crops. Let’s make it a reality!”)