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Vote no: Measure threatens property rights, imposes costs

Next month Jackson County voters will cast ballots on a measure that threatens the private property rights of farmers and ranchers like me and imposes a costly mandate on every local taxpayer.

Measure 15-119 proposes to ban genetically modified crops. I firmly believe the measure would do far more than that. It empowers any person or special interest group seeking to enforce the ban to file a lawsuit against a grower simply based on a suspicion of noncompliance.

That would force farmers and their families to defend themselves against even the most frivolous lawsuits. Many growers just don't have those kinds of resources and their families would be bankrupted.

The measure would also allow unelected county inspectors to access private property to confiscate and destroy crops. Even more disturbing to me is the idea that a landowner whose property was invaded could still be forced to pay the cost.

I also believe this measure violates Oregon's Right to Farm and Forest law, which was passed more than 20 years ago to protect farmers and agricultural practices from government intrusion or regulatory overreach.

Should Measure 15-119 pass, I'm almost certain that someone will challenge it in court, which means county taxpayers will be stuck with the tab for what could be lengthy and costly litigation.

I am deeply concerned about how this measure would affect our local growers. It troubles me that this measure has pitted farmer against farmer, especially when we all want to protect Jackson County's agricultural heritage.

I'm also concerned about how it affects county services.

The county administrator estimates that Jackson County would have to spend more than $200,000 a year to administer and enforce this measure. That includes hiring a new full-time code enforcement officer, contracting with outside experts as well as dedicating additional staff time.

It's ridiculous to think that Jackson County may be forced to hire an enforcement officer to monitor private agricultural operations when the county was forced to cut 13 sheriff's deputy positions this past year.

We don't need to hire crop police, but we do need police to go after criminals. We also need libraries, veteran's services and to support traditional county extension programs like 4-H.

And yet, the county administrator estimates that the county could spend between $300,000 and more than $1 million to clear, test and treat a 20-acre parcel. Those who back Measure 15-119 claim that the farmer would be liable for such costs, if they were found in violation of the crop ordinance.

I am skeptical. Should the grower lack the money or the property fall into foreclosure, the county would be left with the bill.

Does this make sense to you? It sure doesn't make sense to me.

Both sides in this campaign say they want to support local farmers. We all want Jackson County to have a thriving agricultural economy. And yet, the Jackson County Farm Bureau, the Jackson County Stockmen's Association and local farm bureaus and stockmen across the state stand united against Measure 15-119.

If this measure banned organic farming, we would be working just as hard to defeat it. I believe we should embrace and encourage all forms of agriculture and promote a spirit of cooperation and communication amongst all farmers no matter what they grow or how they grow it.

For years, farmers have successfully avoided problems through good communication and by working together. There's no need and certainly no reason to change what has worked so well.

The budget implications and unintended consequences that Measure 15-119 would have on county services are practical matters that affect our entire community. For agriculture, Measure 15-119 is terrible public policy that will affect the local economy and, perhaps just as importantly, our sense of community. That's why I urge Jackson County voters to join me in voting No on Measure 15-119.

Lee Bradshaw is a third-generation Jackson County rancher. He serves as vice president of District 5 Oregon Cattlemen for Josephine, Jackson, Klamath and Lake counties. He is also co-chairman of the Good Neighbor Farmers PAC.