by SUSAN MANN
Grain farmers and the pesticide industry were caught off guard by Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal’s statement published Monday in a national newspaper announcing the Ontario government plans to clamp down on neonicotinoid pesticide use.
Henry Van Ankum, Grain Farmers of Ontario’s chair, says Leal’s announcement took Grain Farmers officials “completely by surprise. We had to read it in the paper ourselves.
“We had what we thought was a strong working relationship with the government over the last 2.5 years on this issue and to have this announced in this fashion is extremely disappointing.”
But the Ontario Beekeepers Association says it wasn’t surprised by the announcement. “It was in the Liberal platform that they were going to do something within 30 days if they got in,” says president Dan Davidson.
In a statement sent by email from agriculture ministry official Mark Cripps, Leal says: “Our intention is to move away from the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides.”
The agriculture ministry plans to hold consultations with farmers, industry and environmental stakeholders in the next few months on “options that are practical, including consideration of a license system,” Leal says. He notes he’s committed to finding a balanced approach based in science that addresses the important role pollinators and growers play in Ontario’s agri-food industry.
Davidson says their understanding is the government wants to get something done right away and have the licensing system in place by this fall.
The government says different. “We cannot predicate a timeline,” Cripps says by email.
No details on how the license system would work have been provided. Van Ankum says “We are a ways off yet from really having the proper tools to evaluate our fields and say clearly on field ‘A’ we need treatment and on field ‘B’ we don’t. We need quite a bit more time to develop those tools.”
In addition, the provincial government has talked a lot about reducing red tape “and here they’ve just added another layer,” he says.
Pierre Petelle, vice-president, chemistry for CropLife Canada, says they weren’t aware the government was leaning in this direction. A licensing system option was discussed at the Ontario Pollinator Round Table meeting last year but stakeholders around that table “clearly demonstrated that was not really a viable option.” One of the reasons a licensing system wasn’t consider realistic is that it would be extremely complex to administer and “the science just isn’t there to predictably tell a farmer what parts of his fields will have soil pest pressures to warrant seed treatments or not.
“We know that neonicotinoids are not the root cause of bee health issues and so we see this as government bureaucracy layering on to a farmer’s ability to make the right business and environmental decisions on their farms,” Petelle says.
Unlike surface insects where scouting helps to determine when pesticides are need, “with soil insects (such as wireworms) we just don’t have the scouting and sampling methodology to predictably say” whether a field needs treatment, he says. “All that risk falls just on the farmer now.”
Davidson says some type of licensing system is a “good idea. Hopefully it can get the usage (of neonicotinoids) down to only where it’s needed, which should be the case anyway but it (neonicotinoid usage) kind of got out of hand there for a few years.”
Previously the Ontario Beekeepers Association had called for an outright ban on neonicotinoids. Davidson says it changed its position this spring to call for a ban on pre-treated corn and soybean seeds instead. The association’s idea is that the seeds would be sold without the insecticide applied to them and then “it’s up to the farmer to get the insecticide put on at a local co-op or ag dealer that sells fertilizers and chemicals. A lot of them are set up to do that anyway.”
Applying neonicotinoid after the seed is purchased “would put a cost to the application and to the product itself,” Davidson says. “It will really make farmers think about whether they need it or not because they have to take the seed in themselves and get it treated.”
In its July 7 press release, Grain Farmers says the grain industry has committed extensive resources over the past two years to mitigate the risks to bees. Many of the new measures have been put into practice this growing season, such as the new mandatory fluency agent to help with seed flow and lower dust being released, and the dust deflectors on equipment. In addition, grain growers have forged good, open communications with many beekeepers.
The results on ongoing research projects and in-field practices “will be paramount in determining any future regulatory decisions,” the release says. It’s counterintuitive to implement a regulatory change without completing this research and trials. BF