Farmers' rights don't extend to killing a neighbor's crops
The Oregon Legislature passed a Right to Farm Act in 1993, and it has withstood repeated legal challenges. But no right is absolute.
Even the federal rights to speak freely, established in the First Amendment, and bear arms, created in the Second, are limited. They are limited both by conflicts between competing rights and between competing exercise of the same right.
Freedom of speech doesn’t extend to driving a sound truck through a residential neighborhood at 3 a.m. Freedom to bear arms doesn’t extend to waving one in the face of a policeman trying to do his job.
So it is with the right to till rural acreage in Oregon.
The law is clear enough when the neighboring party is residential, commercial or industrial. It bars such parties from infringing on traditional farm practices, however obnoxious, including the spraying of chemicals, spreading of manure and firing of bird-deterring cannons.
But what if the neighboring operation is also agricultural, thus also enjoying the right to farm unimpeded? What then?
That question is currently being raised by Willamette Valley grape growers, who object to the spraying of the herbicide 2,4-D by neighboring tree farmers and grass seed growers to eliminate broadleaf weeds.
Long-established and highly effective, the herbicide ranks No. 3 in North America and is used widely around the world. But it is prone to drifting significant distances, indiscriminately contaminating organic and biodynamic operations and wreaking a special kind of havoc on grapes, blueberries and nursery stock.
On behalf of much larger and longer-established wine industries, our neighboring states of Washington and California long ago enacted restrictions on phenoxy herbicides. Washington, in fact, has had restrictions on its books for four decades.
The Oregon wine industry has two proposals: a ban on spraying during its April-to-October growing season, and a ban on spraying within 350 feet of a neighboring agricultural operation. And Yamhill County, where trees, grass seed, winegrapes, blueberries and nursery stock are all grown in close proximity to one another, is at the epicenter of the action.
Meanwhile, agritech giants are pushing for federal approval of three new 2,4-D-resistant GMOs, threatening to give 2,4-D use a big boost in America’s farm fields. That development adds urgency.
We aren’t sure wine interests deserve everything they are looking for in this controversy. But we are persuaded they deserve a measure of relief.