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Vote yes: Claims of Family Farm Measure's costs are not factual

As a family farmer, I don't have a lot of experience in politics, but I understand how fear can be a powerful motivator. As we plant our seeds this year, I have real fear that our crop will be unsellable if it becomes contaminated by any nearby genetically engineered crops.

This fear is why over 150 local family farms are working to pass the Family Farms Measure 15-119, which would protect our farms from genetically engineered crops. We are Republicans, independents, Democrats and Libertarians. We may not agree on much, but we strongly agree we need to pass this measure to protect family farms in the Rogue Valley.

For my family's farm and many others, growing seed to sell and saving seed for next year's crop is critical to our survival. But in a narrow valley like ours, wind spreads pollen from genetically engineered crops for miles. If that genetically engineered pollen trespasses on my farm and cross-pollinates my crops, our farm cannot legally sell or even save any seed that is produced, and my customers wouldn't buy it in the first place.

My cross-pollinated seed would now be a legally patented product controlled by the multinational chemical corporation that owns the patent. If I don't destroy that contaminated crop, as many local farmers have already had to do, I could be sued under federal patent law. Many people are surprised to learn this. The claim that traditional agriculture and genetically engineered crops can co-exist here is a good political sound bite, but it's not factual.

These crops put our economy at risk. When genetically engineered wheat was found on one Oregon farm last year, wheat growers were hit with an export ban from our biggest buyers for months. This ban cost a larger local farm over $50,000 in lost wheat sales. But we were lucky this time; the economic impact could have been much worse. In 2011, Bayer Crop Sciences had to pay $750 million in damages for contaminating the crop of U.S. rice growers, but that didn't cover all the farmers' damages. Google the newspaper articles on these events and you'll see why so many farmers are working to pass 15-119.

While Measure 15-119 responds to real threats to our family farmers and economy, the opposition to Measure 15-119 bases its campaign on different type of fear: fear that is not based on facts. Fear fanned on TV and radio thanks to record amounts of campaign cash from people who do not live here.

But I think Jackson County is smart enough not to buy the political spin of a group that calls itself the Good Neighbor Farmers PAC, but receives over 95 percent of its funds from outside our county and is operated by a high-powered Portland PR firm.

The opposition claims that 15-119 would hurt the county budget. Are they really so concerned about our budget that they spent over $300,000 to influence our vote? Of course not. This is not a genuine argument. It did well in their polling and is meant to play on the concerns most of us share about our budget.

But it's just not supported by fact. The opposition's ads don't mention that the county administrator's report they reference also said the enforcement cost could be zero. When farmers demanded a retraction of the administrator's report because of all the errors and omissions, the administrator explained, "I said at least six times in the presentation that this could cost zero dollars."

Zero is exactly what enforcement has cost the three western agricultural counties with similar laws. This isn't surprising. Who would sign the yearly legal contracts needed to grow genetically engineered crops if it's not legal? Is Syngenta or Monsanto going to illegally sell or grow these crops if Measure 15-119 passes? Are farmers criminals who will break this law? No.

There's not room here to rebut all the untrue claims the opposition is using to try to scare voters, but we invite everyone to visit www.OurFamilyFarmsCoalition.org to learn more.

We don't mind standing in David's shoes in this fight against the out-of-county Goliaths that are flooding us with record amounts of campaign cash. But we hope you will research the facts and learn why the Family Farms Measure 15-119 is a common-sense and necessary way to protect our family farms from genetically engineered crops. Please vote yes on 15-119 when your ballot arrives this May.

Elise Higley is a family farmer and the director of Our Family Farms Coalition.