By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
A 2,000 acre organic farm in central Oregon is facing what could be a be an existential threat to its operations after county weed control authorities sent notice mandating that the farm use chemical herbicides, such as Roundup, to eradicate weed growth.
The mandate would bring to an end nearly 18 years of organic farming, placing a significant loss of organic food to the public.
Azure Farms is a certified organic farm located in Moro, Sherman County, Oregon. The farm produces almost all the organic wheat, field peas, barley, Einkorn, and beef for Azure Standard.
Sherman County could issue a court order on May 22, 2017 to quarantine Azure Farms and possibly to spray the entire farm with poisonous herbicides contaminating them with Milestone, Escort, and Roundup.
Such a unilateral action on the behalf of the few individuals representing county government could set a precedent in damaging perhaps one of the few remaining healthy alternatives to mass-market agribusinesses.
Oregon State law requires arms to control noxious weeds, in the case of Azure Farms Canadian Thistle. But in this instance Sherman County states that the farm is not doing enough to control this noxious weed through organic means. Instead, it was determined that the farm use a scorched earth herbicide to do what it states is an eradication effort rather than a control measures county officials consider ineffective.
In an appeal to the public for help, Azure Farms issued a statement that reads in part:
This will destroy all the efforts as your farm has made for years to produce the very cleanest and healthiest food humanly possible. About 2,000 acres will be impacted; that is 2.8 times the size of The City of London that is about to be sprayed with noxious, toxic, polluting herbicides.
The county would then put a lien on the farm to pay for the expense of the labor and chemicals used.
As if it was not enough to relegate the farm to being contaminated with hazardous chemicals, adding insult to injury the county is forcing the organic farm to pay for its own demise.
Azure Standard, the owner of Azure Farms, is the largest distributor of organic and non-GMO foods in the United States. The company received an email from Sherman County officials stating that the county had changed its interpretation of the statutory code regarding weed control on organic farms. They decided that control of noxious weeds simply is not enough and that instead thay want to eradicate noxious weeds. It is very difficult to fully eradicate weeds in an organic farming.
One single application of a chemical herbicide is enough for an organic farm to lose its USDA Organic Certification. According the USDA:
Any land used to produce raw organic commodities must not have had prohibited substances applied to it for the past three years. Until the full 36-month transition period is met, you may not:
- Sell, label, or represent the product as “organic”
- Use the USDA organic or certifying agent’s seal
One can only imagine the economic impact for a three year period in which an organic farm cannot be certified. But aside from the certification issue, the provenance of the farm could be damaged and there may be residuals remaining in the soil.
It is not only an economic cost to the farm, but a loss of supply for many who are concerned about health risks with chemicals such as Roundup, a herbicide listed as a “Probable Human Carcinogen” by the Europeans.
Given the size of the chemical herbicide industry that faces loss of sales due to public demand for greater access to organic foods, a very convenient way to force herbicide might be through friendly faces in noxious weed control districts.
Here follows a video news release from the farm along with contact information for Sherman County:
UPDATE: The Organic Farm and Sherman County have reached a tentative settlement.
By Darren Smith
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