by SUSAN MANN
Ontario farm groups have given the provincial government conflicting advice on its proposal to implement an 80 per cent cut to the acres of corn and soybeans grown with neonicotinoid-treated seeds by 2017.
Public consultations on the proposal that has garnered much controversy and debate in Ontario’s farm community concluded Jan. 25.
On the one hand, Grain Farmers of Ontario told the government in its submission to abandon the goal of cutting neonicotinoid use by 80 per cent.
But another group, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, said the government didn’t go far enough in its proposal, and the restrictions on neonicotinoid-treated seeds should include other crops, such as sweet corn and wheat. The restrictions on neonicotinoid use should extend to all field crops, the Beekeepers’ Association says in its submission.
Moreover, the neonicotinoid controls should also be extended to its use in foliar sprays, the association says. Otherwise, it asserts, the restrictions won’t have the same beneficial effect on pollinator health.
The Beekeepers’ Association also recommends establishing two no-neonicotinoid zones: a five-kilometre radius around the queen breeding grounds of beekeepers with a permit for queen sales; and a two- to five-kilometre zone around “staging” areas where beekeepers gather bees for movement to pollination sites or summer pastures.
The Ontario government proposal to limit neonicotinoid-treated seed use was introduced in November 2014 by the provincial ministries of agriculture and environment and climate change. It calls for the introduction of a regulatory system to restrict the sale and use of neonicotinoid seed treatments for corn and soybeans under Ontario’s Pesticides Act.
In addition to cutting neonicotinoid use, the proposal has a goal of reducing the overwintering bee mortality rate to 15 per cent by 2020. An agriculture ministry survey concluded the overall bee colony loss in Ontario in the 2013/2014 winter was 58 per cent.
During public consultations, 449 people participated either in person, on the web or through teleconference consultation sessions, an agriculture ministry official says by email. There were also 1,543 written submissions received.
The proposed regulation is to be implemented in July for the 2016 growing season.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture said in its submission there are many factors that compromise pollinator health but the government has focused on just one of them – the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments.
Northumberland County cash crop farmer Bruce Buttar, the Ontario federation director for the counties of Northumberland, Hastings, Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington, says, “there are nine areas that we have identified that we think could potentially be part of the problem.” Buttar is also the federation’s liaison with the Beekeepers’ Association.
The government has acted hastily to pin the blame for poor pollinator health on neonicotinoids and “there hasn’t been any time to study this, any time to research and see what could be the problem,” he says. “They seem to have pinpointed neonics and that’s what they’re focusing on. But there’s no science to really say that this is the whole problem.”
Everyone realizes there is obviously a problem with bee health. “I think that they (the government) have taken a very radical approach to this,” he says.
At the same time, “we don’t really know” what the government means when it says the 80 per cent reduction is an aspirational goal, he adds. Does that mean the government would like to do this “but they’re not really going to, or they can’t?”
Buttar says they’re advising the government to step back and give researchers more time to do their work and to determine how effective are measures, such as dust deflectors on planters and the new fluency agent farmers are using during planting to cut down on dust. Those measures have been in use for about a year.
“There’s been no time to assess some of the things we’ve already done to determine if they’ve been better or not,” he notes.
The Beekeepers’ Association also recommends the government scrap “aspirational” from the proposal.
Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Henry Van Ankum says Grain Farmers has established a pollinator task force, made up of seed industry representatives, certified crop advisers, beekeepers and agricultural input retailers, that is working to develop an alternative plan to the government’s one. The group is presenting the plan to government in February.
“We’re going to make it available at all levels of government,” he says.
Van Ankum says that the consultation process the government went through “no doubt has shown them, I think, the pitfalls of their proposal as well as the challenges of implementing it.” He says he hopes that experience will work in Grain Farmers’ favour by making government officials “open to an alternative that would be more workable.”
Responding to the Grain Farmers position to abandon the 80 per cent cut, Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal says by email provided by his press adviser, “I am mindful of the concerns many individual producers have, and as their minister, will continue to listen and consider feedback as we move forward.”
Leal adds with the public consultation period now closed, “we will carefully review what we have heard and consider the feedback as we continue with the development of regulations to improve pollinator health and a broader pollinator health action plan.”
He adds, “in order to support a healthy pollinator population, Ontario is taking a balanced, precautionary approach. We are working collaboratively with farmers, beekeepers and all others impacted to implement a plan sensitive to their needs.” BF