By Susan Mann
Farmers are starting to get a handle on costs associated with Ontario’s rules aimed at clamping down on neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed sales and usage.
Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Mark Brock says the regulation’s costs are $5 to $6 per acre on his 1,500-acre farm in Perth County. His estimates don’t include “potential yield losses if I can’t prove that I need it (neonicotinoid-treated seeds).”
This is just one of the realities for farmers under the Ontario’s government’s regulation, introduced in 2015 to phase in restrictions on neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed sales and use. Heading into its second year, the regulation’s goal is to cut the acreage planted with treated seeds by 80 per cent by this year.
Renfrew County farmer Tony Straathof says with Ontario farmers’ use of neonicotinoids being restricted, their grains and oilseeds should “become the preferred product in the marketplace. But it is not.”
In fact, Brock says the regulation puts Ontario’s corn and soybean growers at a competitive disadvantage compared to growers in other parts of Canada and the United States who aren’t facing the same restrictions on the product’s use.
According to numbers posted on the Ontario government’s website, the regulation is making a dent in reducing corn and soybean acres planted with treated seeds. There was a one million acre drop, or 24 per cent reduction, in the number of acres for 2016, compared to 2014 when four million acres were planted with the treated seeds. In 2016, the treated seed acreage was slightly more than three million.
This is the first year of seed sales reporting under the new regulation, the website says.
Another reality hitting farmers is neonicotinoid-alternative products for corn seeds are more expensive and less effective.
Straathof says the alternative seed treatment he’s using adds $10 to $20 for each bag of corn seeds. He grows 150 acres of cash crops and 100 acres of hay.
The alternative product is “three times as expensive (as neonicotinoid-treated seeds) but it is not as effective,” he adds.
Stephen Denys, business management director for Maizex Seeds, agrees alternative insecticide seed treatment products are more expensive but disputes the claim they’re less effective.
“The alternatives have performed pretty well,” he says. The industry has done a lot of trials and the performance of the alternatives is “pretty close” to neonicotinoid-treated seeds, he says.
There are two alternatives for neonicotinoid-treated corn seeds this year and none yet for soybeans. Denys says the soybean alternative won’t be available for another year or two.
About the higher costs for the alternative products, Denys says Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America that restricts farmers’ neonicotinoid-treated seed usage. Companies manufacturing the alternatives “don’t have a high volume to work with” and that’s why the costs are higher than for neonicotinoid seed treatments.
In other news, the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) course farmers need to take so they can buy treated seeds won’t be free after April 30. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change spokesman Lindsay Davidson says by email the price for the course hasn’t been set yet but will be in line with fees for “similar programs offered to farmers, such as the Grower Pesticide Safety Course.”
As of February, more than 11,000 participants (more than 30 per cent of growers) have taken the pest management course and that’s in line with ministry expectations. Not all farmers have wireworms or grubs or will buy the treated seeds, Davidson says. Also “an IPM certified person can supervise up to seven people planting on the farm.”
Also new later this year is the requirement for a third party to do the pest assessments and reports farmers need to buy neonicotinoid-treated seeds. As of Aug. 31, only professional pest advisers who aren’t employed by manufacturers or retailers of neonicotinoids can do the necessary assessments and reports. That regulation has the potential to cause massive problems, as there won’t be enough advisers to do the work for Ontario’s 28,000 corn and soybean farmers.
In a Nov. 30, 2016 letter to Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie said only about 80 professional advisers would be eligible to complete the assessments and reports as of Aug. 31 from a group of more than 500 certified professionals in the province.
A private members bill proposed by Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson last September attempted to lift the restriction on who would qualify to prepare reports to include all certified crop advisers regardless of their employment situation. It passed first and second reading in the fall and was referred to the Ontario Legislature’s standing committee on general government for review and public consultation.
Brock says “as it stands now for this coming fall for those areas of the province that need the assessments, we’re going to have to find independent certified crop advisers if this doesn’t get passed through the house.”
Brock says GFO’s membership “still has issues with the regulation no matter what because we don’t really think it’s founded in sound science. I think our membership is still disappointed with having to comply with it.”