Small production, large ripples from Oregon county
May 23, 2014
by Josh Sosland
JACKSON COUNTY, ORE. — An Oregon county that voted this week to ban the planting of bioengineered crops is among the state’s smallest agricultural producers. The ban was approved in Jackson county by nearly a two-to-one margin in an election that featured campaign spending of about $1.3 million, or $10 per registered voter. The law, expected to be challenged in court, was opposed not only by agricultural biotechnology companies but by the food industry and agricultural groups fearing a patchwork of regulations across the United States. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed a bill last fall prohibiting local governments from regulating bioengineered crops, but Jackson county was excluded from the law because its ballot measure already had qualified for a vote. Bioengineered crops emerged as an issue two years ago in the county when residents reacted negatively to news a Swiss company was planting bioengineered sugar beet seeds there. “Regrettably, ideology defeated sound science and common sense in Jackson county,” said Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau. In 2012, Jackson ranked 24th among Oregon counties as measured by gross farm and ranch sales totaling $65,918,000. The state’s top county generated $639 million in sales. Jackson ranked second in the state in pear production but was among the smallest producers of wheat in Oregon, harvesting 419 acres in 2012 out of the state’s total of 860,000.