by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario agriculture ministry is under the gun to develop a system reducing neonicotinoid treatments on corn and soybean seeds for next year but farmers have already started ordering their seeds for the 2015 growing season.
“It’s really not feasible to put something like this in place for 2015,” says Henry Van Ankum, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario. “The ordering, processing and seed production process for next year’s planting has already begun.”
But the Ontario agriculture ministry doesn’t have a choice. In a Sept. 25 letter, Premier Kathleen Wynne told Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal he must work with the environment and climate change minister, Glen Murray, and other ministries, industry partners and stakeholders to “develop an action plan to meaningfully reduce neonicotinoid use for the 2015 growing season including measurable targets.” All Cabinet ministers received “mandate” letters outlining priorities for their ministries.
For the 2016 growing season, Wynne told Leal he must “develop a system that requires a reduction in the use of seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides” through regulations, a permit-type of system or further measures as needed.
Ontario Beekeepers’ Association president Dan Davidson says the Ontario agriculture ministry’s field crop entomologist estimates “somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of the acres in Ontario actually need treatment. So putting it where it’s needed would be a pretty good target.”
Davidson says Wynne’s statement in her mandate letter is what beekeepers have been asking for. They’re pleased by her commitment to bees.
Davidson says in the organization’s Sept. 26 press release recent declines in bee populations and the economic problems suffered by Ontario beekeepers from neonicotinoid pesticide poisoning has been a very high profile issue affecting both the beekeeping industry and potentially the province’s food supply, which depends on honey bees and others insect pollinators.
Leal says by email he’s working with beekeepers, grain farmers and others in the agricultural sectors “to identify tangible ways to reduce the use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds for the 2015 growing season. Seed purchases are being made in the next few weeks, so the urgency behind our collective efforts is clear.”
As for the regulations or permit-type system required for the 2016 growing season, Leal says the government plans to have the system requiring the targeted use of seeds treated with neonicotinoids in place by July 1, 2015.
“We also continue to work on a comprehensive pollinator health plan to address the many other aspects of pollinator health,” he says.
Van Ankum says the Ontario government needs to consider “adding a lot of regulation in this area that can seriously impact our farming practices could have some economic consequences for our members at a time when commodity markets are declining.”
He agrees the “wording is very clear in the mandate letter that this is a path they want to pursue” despite Grain Farmers efforts in meetings with the agriculture minister and premier’s staff “to try and suggest to them that this is not the right path on this issue.”
Grain Farmers’ officials plan to continue meeting with the agriculture minister “to try and shape these regulations in a way that can still achieve some significant reduction in risk to pollinators but at the same time not be too negative of an impact on our members,” he says.
Van Ankum adds Grain Farmers and the industry as a whole has demonstrated a strong commitment to pollinator health during the past two years. “We’ve made a lot of positive improvements this year with the use of the new Fluency Agent, dust deflectors on planters as well as all the other best management practices. I think those steps that have already been taken are going to show some positive results.” Farmers also have the option of using untreated seeds, he notes. BF