Good neighbor farming is better than GMO ban

Rep. Sal Esquivel

Rep. Sal Esquivel

Herman Baertschiger

Rep. Herman Baertschiger

We read with interest the Legislative Outtakes column in the Sunday paper by our colleagues, Sen. Alan Bates and Rep. Peter Buckley. The headline proclaimed “Legislators team up to fight for farmers.”

We’re not sure most Rogue Valley farmers would agree Sen. Bates and Rep. Buckley are on their side in the debate about SB 633.

The Rogue Valley is among the most diverse and productive agricultural regions in the state. Farmers here, and throughout Oregon, have the right to choose what crops they grow and what farm production technologies work best for them. Oregon right to farm and forest laws are what protect those rights for Rogue Valley farmers and farmers across the state.

The Oregon Board of Agriculture clearly supports “the wise management of all production systems on farmland and agricultural applications, striving for economic vitality, natural resource stewardship, good neighbor and employee relations, and community connections.”

The state board’s “good neighbor” advice encourages cooperative coexistence among farmers. Coexistence is not a new idea. Farmers operate within communities and many already cooperate with neighbors toward their common success.

Backers of the Jackson County initiative to ban farmers here from growing genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organism (GMO) crops believe farmers planting such crops are in conflict with farmers growing organic crops. The fact is, some valley farmers grow conventional crops, GE crops and organic crops to serve multiple markets — all on one farm. Current science shows that GE crops pose no more risk to other farmers or crops than those posed by organic or conventional crops. The need to preserve the integrity of crops applies to all agricultural production.

Rather than asking Jackson County taxpayers to fund an anti-GMO crusade by local activists, it makes much more sense to leave regulation of crops to experts at the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the federal agencies responsible for approval of GE plants.

Instead, at the local level, farmers concerned about protecting the integrity of crops they choose to grow can work with neighboring farmers to minimize the risk of unintended pollen flow. Farmers in the valley are already pursuing a better balanced solution based on that simple idea.

With the help of Oregon State University Extension Service, farmers in the Rogue Valley are exploring the creation of a seed association to facilitate coexistence among all types of farmers. That’s a far better approach than banning biotech crops — the approach of the local activists’ crop ban initiative backed by Sen. Bates and Rep. Buckley.

A number of Rogue Valley farmers have talked about forming a group they’re calling Good Neighbor Farmer. It’s a coalition of farmers and ranchers that supports collaboration, cooperation and coexistence among all farmers.

Instead of trying to boost the business of some farmers at the expense of others, we are fighting in Salem to protect all Rogue Valley farmers’ right to farm. We support local farmers who are committing themselves to good neighborliness — cooperating and collaborating to ensure the coexistence of diverse farming practices to help agriculture of all kinds continue to prosper in Jackson County.

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