As of Friday, August 24, 2018
To the editor:
There is a little weed which causes a big problem in eastern Oregon: genetically engineered Creeping Bentgrass, created by agribusiness giants Scotts Miracle-grow and Monsanto for use as turf grass on golf-courses and to be resistant to the use of Round-up weed killer.
The big problem is the grass has escaped and can affect non GMO crops and invade natural areas.
As reported in a feature story in the June 24, 2018 edition of High Country News, in 2003 Scotts and Monsanto petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deregulate the grass and at the same time got permission to plant large ﬁelds for seed production. Eighty acres of Bentgrass were planted in Idaho near Ontario and 420 acres were planted in Jefferson County. In both plantings the seeds scattered in Oregon well beyond the designated control areas. On farms in both areas “it now thrives in canals and ditches where it collects sediment and impedes water ﬂow” for irrigation.
Because of deals made by Scotts with the USDA, it no longer has to bankroll clean-up efforts. At ﬁrst, Scotts led the battle to rein in its escapee, but the USDA has relieved Scotts of future responsibility for the company’s promise to not market the grass. In 2016 Scotts and the USDA held a “tense” meeting at the extension office in Ontario. Deals were made, which according to Jerry Erstrom, a retired BLM natural resource specialist, were “nothing more than a plan for Scotts to get off the economic hook of ﬁxing what they broke” and put the responsibility and cost for removal on the farmers and landowners.
Erstrom reached out to the Farm Bureau and to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican he had supported for decades. When he called, he mentioned that he had also reached out to environmental groups, and that’s when the ground shifted. Walden’s office never responded. Instead of offering support, the Farm Bureau said they could not support collaborating with the environmental groups.
According to the article, Erstrom is still bothered by the fact “the Farm Bureau sided with Scotts and that the community fractured when it should have united.” It bothers him that his elected officials kept silent. Most of all, it bothers him that the USDA seemed to protect industry over local growers. The regulatory system failed miserably. This upended his faith in the government he served for decades.