By Tom Collins
KENT COUNTY — New and controversial provincial seed regulations mean that some farmers spend days filling out the needed paperwork to be allowed to use insecticide seed treatments called neonicotinoids this spring.
Trevor Crowe, of Reynolds Farms in Eastern Ontario, spent about 40 hours filling out the forms for 4,000 acres. That didn’t include the half-day course required to use neonics or the actual scouting for pests. His father Lloyd did the scouting, which added several weeks and many hours as Lloyd had to dig the government-required five holes for every 100 acres — that’s 800 holes over 4,000 acres — to set bait for wireworms and grubs.
“You can tell somebody from the city wrote (the regulations),” said Trevor. “They didn’t really think of the actual scope of work that would be required to implement something like this. It’s just not realistic at all for our size of farm.”
Most farmers report that it has taken about an hour of paperwork for every 100 acres.
Ontario provincial regulations came into effect last year that require farmers to conduct pest assessments before being allowed to use neonic-treated corn and soybean seeds on more than 50 per cent of their fields in 2016. Farmers will need a pest assessment on all fields that use neonics starting in 2017 with the goal of an 80 per cent reduction. Almost all of the corn seeds in Ontario and 60 per cent of soybean seeds were previously treated with neonics. The province argues that neonics are killing honeybees. The Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) says the province is short on science and is siding with environmentalists.
Mark Thomson, who farms with his brother Joe at Parkhill, estimated it would take about 40 hours to fill out the paperwork for his 4,500 acres including custom work.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” he said. “It’s just going to be another thing you’ve got to sit in your office and do. It’s more paperwork, and there’s enough paperwork already. These are all going to go to OMAFRA. They’re going to be thrown in the corner, and probably nobody’s going to look at them.”
Thomson thinks farmers will simply hire someone next year to do the paperwork for them, but also believes this year should take the longest. Next year, all the background work, such as finding field maps and roll numbers, will have already been done.
GFO director Mark Huston wasn’t finished the paperwork by Feb. 1, but said a conservative estimate is it would take him 10 hours.
“It’s something that we don’t really want to be doing,” said the Kent County farmer. “And it is a time-consuming process. The forms are not laid out exceptionally well to be able to make it an easy process. But then again, the whole process was not meant to make it easy. And I think to be able to get to their 80 per cent reduction, it’s got to be difficult.”
Huston said farmers are frustrated by the amount of work. One of Huston’s fields is about 115 acres but has three roll numbers, meaning he had to dig 15 holes on those acres. In total, he had to scout about 900 acres.
Despite the work involved, he plans to scout again in the spring to ensure he can use neonics in 2017.
Estimates are that 80 to 90 per cent of farmers had not submitted any neonic documents by late January. Farmers that don’t use neonic seed don’t need to fill out forms, which are submitted online or given to their seed dealer.
Pioneer sales rep Leo Guilbeault spent about three hours on paperwork for his almost 2,000 acres, but said it’s taking more time to help customers.
“I was surprised how many guys out there hadn’t even heard of it,” he said. “I’ve done mine, but everybody else needs help, so that’s even more work. That’s my project for the whole month of February. We try to encourage everybody to get it done now because it’s easier now when we have time to deal with it than come springtime when everybody is in more of a hurry and the last thing you want to do is sit at a desk filling in paperwork when you can be outside in the workshop. You give a farmer one of two choices, tinker around in a workshop or doing paperwork, and I’ll let you guess which one he chooses.”
Guilbeault said this is a good time to be doing the paperwork, before planting season begins.
“We can’t legally deliver their seeds until they deliver us the paperwork,” he said. “It’s in our best interests to make sure that gets done. I don’t want to have to deal with that in the spring when it’s seed delivery time.”
GFO chair Mark Brock still had to do about half the paperwork at the start of February. He estimated it would take about 6 to 10 hours, or a 40-hour week when you add in the scouting for pests.
Brock said many farmers, himself included, are applying for 100 per cent use of neonics instead of the 50 per cent that the government is hoping for. This allows farmers the opportunity to switch fields if needed during the planting season because of wet weather.
“It’s almost simpler to try to work toward 100 per cent compliance because at 50 per cent, if you’re one bag over, you’re technically breaking the law,” he said.
Brock added that it is unclear how the province will enforce the regulations.