A proposed settlement of a lawsuit against Jackson County’s ban on genetically engineered crops would allow continued growing of Roundup-ready alfalfa if it has already been planted.

Farmers with the genetically modified or GMO alfalfa would have an eight-year period where they could grow their crops under the terms of the settlement.

“I think that we will be really thankful when this grace period is over,” said Elise Higley, director of Our Family Farms Coalition and a farmer who supports the ban.

The settlement must be approved by Jackson County Commissioners and federal Magistrate Mark D. Clarke, who earlier ruled that Jackson County’s ban on GMO crops did not violate Oregon’s Right to Farm Law.

Shannon Armstrong, attorney for Schulz Family Farms LLC and James and Marilyn Frink, said she could only reveal the names of her clients who presently grow genetically engineered alfalfa, but there are other growers as well.

“Imagine how some growers of GE crops don’t want to be identified,” Armstrong said. “We need to respect their privacy.”

She said a “confidential” registry would be created of farmers who were growing Roundup-ready alfalfa when the GMO ban took effect.

“We hope to do outreach so they know about the potential settlement,” she said.

Bruce Schulz of Gold Hill and James and Marilyn Frink of Sams Valley filed the lawsuit against the county, with Schulz saying he would lose more than $2.2 million if he had to remove his alfalfa.

The Frinks have said tearing out their alfalfa would cost them $2 million. No other crop would be as profitable on their land and, after waiting four years to replant, they would have lost customers and would be too old to start anew, the lawsuit says.

In their lawsuit, the farmers say that forcing them to tear out their GE crops amounts to an “unconstitutional taking.”

As part of the settlement, the Frink and Schulz families have agreed that after the eight years is up, they would revert to crops that aren’t genetically engineered.

The Swiss biotechnology firm Syngenta has confirmed it has stopped growing test plots of GMO sugar beets, which it grew on leased land in the Rogue Valley.

Voters in May 2014 overwhelmingly supported the ban on genetically modified crops in Jackson County.

Higley said local farmers already feel better after the removal of the Syngenta crops since voters approved the ban.

"GE crops do harm non-GE farmers," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.