Ontario Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal has indicated there will be no changes to the neonicotinoid-treated seed regulations that have infuriated many crop farmers, other than to look at the amount of paperwork involved.
In an end-of-year interview with Farmers Forum editor Patrick Meagher, Leal praised the new mandatory neonic training sessions for teaching farmers about the importance of bees to agriculture.
Leal also noted that he is working to bring natural gas to rural areas to move away from higher energy costs, including electricity. The interview follows.
On behalf of crop farmers, are you pressing the minister of environment to make changes to make the neonicotinoid regulations more workable for farmers or are you standing with the minister of environment and saying that the regulations are good as is?
First of all, one aspect I cannot comment on is the court case that is ongoing.
No, I am not asking about that.
But generally, from time to time I see the word ban being used.
Okay, let’s use restrictions. Take restrictions.
Yes, I think we should be very clear. When it comes to the use of neonicotinoids in the province of Ontario, there are restrictions. But clearly, clearly where there is a demonstrated need, people can use this product. For example, in Southwestern Ontario, where you have the wire worm because you have sandy soils, soils that were formerly used to grow tobacco, the wireworm is a very prevalent pest.
In my part of Ontario, Peterborough County, in clay soils you don’t have that prevalence of the wireworm pest. So, clearly where there is a demonstrated need the product can be used.
I did make a note in your latest edition that arrived in my home in Peterborough just last week. Your publication interviewed a number of farmers that are going through the training session and what really struck me is how they are learning how really important bees and pollinators are to the health of agriculture in the province of Ontario. While they did talk about the paperwork burden and we recognize that.
But for many of the farmers going through this process is a real opportunity to learn about the importance that bees and pollinators have for healthy agriculture in the province of Ontario.
To get back to the question, I take it that you are standing with the minister of environment and saying the regulations are good as is, as opposed to needing any kind of tweaking?
Well, we’re always very, very sensitive to the issue. And as I said, I did make note of the farmers that were interviewed in your publication, where they talked about the paperwork and that is something I will be raising with my colleague, the minister of environment and climate change.
But what struck me was how these sessions have provided very practical information about pollinators and bees in the province of Ontario and I think that is important. For example, Wendy Brae, a crop farmer in Moose Creek, said, “Yes, I have learned a lot about the problems with bees. I didn’t realize how important they are to everybody. “And I couldn’t say that any better myself.
Moving to Ontario Hydro and costs of electricity: The Ontario Federation of Agriculture wanted farmers to get a break there. Is there a plan to give farmers a break on energy costs?
One of the things that we’re looking at, was in our campaign platform, the extension of natural gas infrastructure into rural communities. If you look at the price of natural gas over the last little while, it has declined some 50 % and we do know there is a lot of supply in North America today because of new processes that are being used to bring natural gas to the market. And in the not-too distant future, we’re anticipating talking about the framework and the policy provisions to extend natural gas into rural communities which will allow farmers and businesses in rural communities to move from electricity, move to natural gas and also move away from propane.
You talk to a lot of farmers. What is the biggest concern for farmers right now?
Of course, they acknowledged the role I played going to TPP in Atlanta in September to make sure that we maintain the integrity of the supply managed system for Ontario farmers. And we all know that quota is worth about $12 billion to the supply managed sector in Ontario. And at the same time we have to make sure that we look at opportunities under the TPP umbrella to provide the non-supply managed sectors new market access — for example, pork in Vietnam and corn-fed beef in Japan — and take advantage of those trade opportunities.