by JIM ALGIE
Farmers should know within days what the Ontario government plans to do about neonicotinoid pesticide class regulations, Ontario Federation of Agriculture President Mark Wales said in an interview, Monday.
Facing re-election during the federation’s annual general meeting next week in Niagara Falls, Wales also held out the possibility that Ontario’s largest, general farm organization will join Farm Action Now. That’s the coalition announced last week by four farm commodity groups and spearheaded by Grain Farmers of Ontario chairman Henry Van Ankum.
The coalition seeks broad consultation among farmers and bee keepers and others before proceeding with new neonic regulations and other new limits on farm practices.
The federation’s Wales expects imminent posting of proposed new regulations. In the normal course of government business, a 60-day consultation period follows posting on the Environmental Registry (EBR) website. That would put off actual adoption of new regulations promised for the 2016 growing season until July 1 of 2015, Wales said.
“We’re going to be following the issue very closely,” Wales said of current federation plans.
Farm Action Now statements to date have emphasized the need for science-based decisions about issues such as neonic restrictions. That position closely resembles federation positions on the subject, Wales said.
In 2013, the federation president published a position paper on neonics and their impact on pollinating insects such as honey bees. His paper, available on the group’s website, emphasized the role of current review by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency and the need for “sound science to make our decisions.”
“For generations, the development and overwhelming success of Ontario’s agricultural industry has relied on science and technology,” the 2013 statement said. “What we need once again is a sustainable solution, built on sound science and applied by everyone in the agriculture industry.”
Wales spoke by phone with Van Ankum as recently as Monday and expects to attend a planned follow-up meeting of the Farm Action Now coalition being planned for this week. It’s a crowded agenda for both the OFA and neonic regulations.
Wales is a candidate for re-election among a field of four people running for the OFA presidency. Other candidates with position statements posted on the convention website are: Keith Currie, Don McCabe and Debra Pretty-Straathof. The convention runs from Nov. 23 through Nov. 25 and includes a Monday address by Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal. The agenda for a meeting of the new board, Nov. 25, will certainly include the regulatory controversy, Wales said, emphasizing general issues raised by Farm Action Now, rather than a close focus on neonics.
“We’ll take a hard look at the whole issue,” Wales said. “Looking at making regulations about anything, crop protection, animal welfare issues . . . has always been a big concern for our members,” Wales said.
Asked about the possibility the federation could join Van Ankum’s group, Wales said OFA has participated in and initiated similar groups. Federation researchers are preparing submissions for the new board identifying wider uses of neonics beyond current controversies about seed treatments for corn and soybeans.
“It’s in a lot of crop protection products, a lot of products used in flowers, a lot of products for pets, dog flea collars. We have staff putting a lot of material together for the board on just how broadly these products are used and making sure we have the real information and not a lot of stuff that people get off the Internet,” Wales said.
Representatives of the Christian Farmers Federation and the National Farmers Union for Ontario could not be reached for comment but both organizations have published positions on neonic use.
A July 2013 backgrounder published on the website of Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario describes its policy to support efforts “to mitigate” the impact of neonics on pollinating insects.
The Christian Farmers’ position also argues, however, that “the prosperous future of Ontario agriculture is in large part dependent on our willingness to adapt to new technology, innovation and productivity improvement.” The position seeks further research and the use of “best management practices to minimize the impact of neonics on pollinators.”
National Farmers Union statements on the subject express support for Liberal positions both during the spring election and since. In a statement released, July 10, the union characterizes government policy as a move “away from the widespread, prophylactic use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides in agriculture.”
The union favours “a moratorium on the sale of treated seed,” Ontario NFU President Karen Eatwell is quoted to say in the statement. She expressed support for a process requiring farmers “to apply for permits if they want to use neonicotinoid-treated seed.”
Practical Farmers of Ontario members also generally favour reduced use of pesticides, says its president, Sean McGivern.
McGivern praised provincial policy to restrict the use of neonics and accused the coalition of adopting positions dictated by chemical processors and others in what he called “big agriculture.”
“I’m glad to see the Liberal government has stepped up because in the past most governments have just pandered to whatever farmers wanted whether it was right or wrong,” said McGivern who crops 2,000 acres in Grey County. His upstart Practical Farmers group has about 200 members, most selling directly to consumers. BF