Playing for high stakes in neonicotinoid debate

By Tim Kalinowski


Grain Farmers of Ontario chairman Mark Brock says the biggest problem in neonicotinoid debate isn’t with the neonicotinoids themselves, but rather the ignorance of well-meaning, but ultimately uninformed, individuals in power making decisions on agriculture without any knowledge of agriculture. He says this is especially true in Ontario, where there are very small percentage of farmers, and is likely a huge reason behind the partial ban brought in on neonicotinoids last year.

Alberta may also be in danger of this with its currently, urban-focused government, he says.
“You might not have the agriculture knowledge-depth within the elected officials,” he says. “I think that is something we saw in Ontario here where over time we lost the knowledge base of agriculture; not only within the bureacracy, but by our elected officials. It becomes so much more of a challenge to have them understand why we do things, and how things are done and we feel they are already done in an environmentally sustainable way… So when you get into these situations, you are starting from zero.”

Brock says Ontario’s Liberal government just didn’t think through the consequences to the province’s agriculture industry before deciding to bring down its heavy hand. Brock suspects he knows who has Premier Wynn’s ear, and it definitely isn’t farmers.

“There was concern about pollinator health from the provincial government which I think was driven by a small portion of the population, mainly environmental activists, that seem to have the ear of our provincial government,” says Brock.
“This has led to reactionary legislation. As a consequence, they want to see an 80 per cent reduction in the use over a short timeframe.”
Brock says Ontario is the only current province with a neonicotinoid ban. Others have avoided such reactionary legislation so far,  and for good reason.
“From a Health Canada and PMRA perspective, they have said these products don’t cause any issues with pollinators, and that was the whole basis of the regulation in Ontario in the first place.
“We want more decisions based on science. We still look to the federal government as being our regulator, and we encourage our province to look toward the federal government as well on this issue, and not try to over-regulate regulations that already come down from a federal government standpoint.”
According to Brock, the consequence of the ban thus far is a bane to farmers and a boon to multinational chemical companies.
“Syngenta and Dupont have two new seed treatment products on the market, in terms of dealing with this (Ontario) neonics legislation, and the cost of those products are substantially more than the products that were there before.
“I think we are also going to see added costs in terms of loss of yield and application of pesticide as producers lose control of these pests they previously had under control with neonics.”
Ontario as of now only allows neonicotinoids to be used if a farmer proves he has a definite need; as in an already out-of-control pest outbreak destroying his or her crop; thus negating the usefulness of neonicotinoids, which are generally mixed in seed and applied primarily as a preventative.
“Now that we are into the full-fledged regulation this year, if you want to buy one bag of treated seed for corn or soybean you have to really identify you need it through pest assessments,” explains Brock.
“Going forward into 2018, we are going to have to contract professional services to provide those pest assessment numbers.
“What it has really turned into is a regulation on pollinator health that’s created a lot of concern at the farm level because its very difficult to prove that we need these in the snapshot of time where we can do the assessment,” continues Brock.
“It’s really putting a lot of us in jeopardy in terms of not being able to deal with pests.”
Brock says he hopes for common sense in Ontario to eventually prevail, but he’s not optimistic. And he has a warning for Alberta farmers: Be ready.
“When you start seeing policies getting created more from an emotional or idealistic perspective, the warning sirens are starting to go off you have to be a bit little more proactive,” he says.
“I think we have to be more proactive as farm groups and farm leaders to try to get in there and do some more education specific to our commodities we represent, and try to find some common ground; which seems to be the most difficult part right now.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The health of bees and other pollinators is at the heart of the debate over the use of neonicotinoids. Environmentalists and some scientists have pointed a finger at the common seed additive as a strong factor in Colony Collapse Disorder, while the USDA and Agriculture and AgriFood Canada have so far found no experimental basis for these claims. This has not stopped some jurisdictions from imposing bans, however.