By Tom Collins
PARKHILL — One Western Ontario farmer says he will keep a handshake agreement with a beekeeper to allow hives on his farm, despite the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) warning members to have a signed, written agreement to protect them from liability.
The GFO sent letters to its 28,000 members in June to say the neonicotinoid seed regulations forced on farmers by the provincial government will push corn and soybean growers to return to traditional chemical spraying that could be worse for bees than neonics.
“It is important that this risk be communicated to and understood and accepted by beekeepers before they are allowed to place their hives on a grain farmer’s property,” writes GFO lawyer Rob Wilson of the Wilson Spurr legal firm in St. Catharines. “This will necessitate some form of written documentation whereby the beekeeper accepts all risks to the hive and bees placed on a grain farmer’s property and releases the grain farmer from any liability.”
Without that agreement, farmers may have to end the arrangements with beekeepers or accept the risks themselves, the letter states.
Neonics refer to insecticides that are used on most Ontario corn and soybean fields. The province argues that neonics are killing honeybees. Grain farmers argue that the province needs to look at the science, not emotional appeals.
GFO Middlesex County director Joe Thomson has allowed a beekeeper to keep hives on the farm for the past 50 years in exchange for honey. Despite being about 100 feet away from neonic-planted crops, the bees thrive, says Thomson, who grows 3,500 acres of cash crops with his brother Mark at Parkhill in Middlesex County.
Thomson, who has a mild allergy to bees, says he has no plans to change his handshake agreement with the beekeeper.
“If there was a new beekeeper coming in and wanting to put bees on our farm, I’d probably look at an agreement, but we’re not going to do anything,” he says. “We’ve always had them there, so I never really think about it.”
There are no numbers on how many of the 28,000 GFO members have beehives on their farms, but CEO Barry Senft says the number is significant.
“It’s not an issue of telling members what they should do. It’s making them aware that the environment has changed around this issue, and they should be cautious,” he says. “It is basically a heads-up that it is not business as usual.”
Bill Callaghan, a 750-acre cash crop farmer at Reaboro near Lindsay, says he will continue his handshake agreement with a beekeeper to allow 35-40 hives on his farm each year.
“I have a pretty good understanding with my beekeeper,” he says. “We’ve always been friends for many years.”
The agreement doesn’t earn Callaghan any extra money, but the bees pollinate the clover he grows. Callaghan used neonics until this year, and does spray his corn, but says his beekeeper has never complained about the effect on the colonies.
Callaghan says that near hives he plants crops that are better for bees, such as buckwheat and white clover and he doesn’t spray those crops.