by SUSAN MANN
Grains and oilseeds farmer Henry Denotter says he’s okay with an Ontario government proposal to remove common milkweed from the Weed Control Act’s schedule of noxious weeds.
Denotter, who farms in Essex County and is president of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, says the government proposal is a positive step and “we can still control it if we do have a milkweed issue.”
Milkweed is on the decline in his farming area, Denotter says. But sometimes he gets requests from landlords who “make a big deal about milkweed and the Monarch butterfly.” They ask him to not spray or exterminate the weeds.
“If they (milkweed plants) are in the fencerow, I generally leave them alone,” Denotter says.
Removal of common milkweed from the schedule of noxious weeds is one of two changes being proposed by the government and posted on the Regulatory Registry and Environmental Registry for 45 days. The other change is to add dog-strangling vine to the schedule. They were both posted on Feb. 28.
Agriculture ministry weed specialist Mike Cowbrough says the ministry has gotten lots of letters about milkweed during the past several years. Part of the reason it is being removed from the noxious weed list is to deal with “the concerns around the Monarch butterfly.”
Agriculture ministry spokesman Mark Cripps says people are concerned about butterfly population declines. In addition, “we’re hearing reports of a really difficult winter for the Monarch butterfly down in Mexico.”
Cripps says “anything we can do to help improve that situation, in the climate where we’re not adversely affecting our farmers, seems like the right thing to do.”
Farmers have lots of options for controlling common milkweed “so we’re pretty comfortable about” removing the weed from the list, he notes.
Common milkweed is an important habitat and food source for the butterfly, while dog-strangling vine is an invasive plant that interrupts the butterfly’s life cycle. Cowbrough says the butterfly is attracted to dog-strangling vine but the “eggs don’t survive on the plant.”
In the late 2000s, the municipality of Clarington and Durham Region identified dog-strangling vine as “a weed of increasing concern,” he says. “The farm community in some areas sees it creeping into their fields. From an agricultural perspective there was some motivation to stop it from spreading.”
There are now some management options for people wanting to control it so it made sense to add the vine, called black swallowwort in the United States, to the list.
Cripps says after the posting period is finished, the ministry will review and consider the comments submitted and then the proposed amendment will go to the legislation and regulations committee.
Cowbrough says the Weed Control Act is intended to protect agricultural land from weeds and every person possessing a noxious weed has to control it. If noxious weeds are “far enough away” from agricultural land they don’t need to be controlled, he says, noting the act doesn’t define the distance because it’s different depending on the type of weed. Weed inspectors use their judgment to determine if noxious weeds are far enough away from farmland by looking at a variety of factors, such as the environment, the prevailing winds “and all that kind of stuff.”
Cripps says the changes to the noxious weed list support the government’s commitments to conserve biodiversity in its 2012-2020 plan called Biodiversity: It’s in Our Nature. BF