By Tom Collins
TORONTO —The Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) has commissioned a study to look at the long-term economic impact the new neonicotinoid regulations will have on Ontario farmers.
This is the next step in the GFO’s battle against the regulations after losing a court appeal on April 20. The GFO has hired BDO, a Canadian accounting and advisory firm, to study the economic impact over the next three years to give the GFO hard data to bring to the government. Whether the GFO wants the province to change the regulations or come up with a program to compensate farmers for their losses is still up in the air.
A cynic might say the province can always blame lower yields on numerous factors other than neonics.
“I guess it depends on how responsible the government wants to be for its actions,” said GFO chair Mark Brock. “Ultimately it’s up to government to decide what they want to do. If we were to put together decent numbers in a good report that reflects on issues to untreated seeds, I think government needs to realize we’re not trying to make this up.”
There have already been numerous studies that looked at the economics of neonics but this will be the first one to use real-time numbers instead of estimates.
A 2014 Conference Board of Canada report said that restricting the use of neonicotinoids would reduce corn and soybean revenues by more than $630-million per year in Ontario. Taking into account the 28,000 members of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, that equals about $22,500 per farmer.
A 2015 study prepared for CropLife Canada., a seed industry lobby group, said the new neonic regulations would see the average farm lose $61,600 a year in income, and Ontario farmers as a whole would lose $882.1 million in income each year. Large farms with revenues of more than $500,000 would be the hardest hit, with an average revenue loss of $237,600 per year.
Health Canada released an economic value report earlier this year which found the national economic benefit of using neonics on corn to be $74.2 to $83.3 million annually and on soybeans $37.3 to $51 million. The report said the majority of those benefits for corn are in Ontario.
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 this year.
Farmers will need a pest assessment on all fields that use neonics starting in 2017. The province wants to reduce neonic use by 80 per cent. Some farmers said they didn’t do the pest assessments this year but filed the paperwork as if they had. 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 GFO says the province is short on science and is siding with environmentalists. The first of three Health Canada studies released earlier this year sided with the farmers.
While nothing is finalized, Brock says there isn’t a lot of interest from the GFO board to pursue this further from a legal standpoint.
The GFO tried to quash the new neonic regulations last year but a Superior Court judge dismissed the case in October. The GFO appealed, saying there is an ambiguity in the regulations and asked for the regulations to be delayed until March 1, 2017. An appeal panel ruled against the GFO on April 20 saying it did not have the power to change the regulations as the GFO “has not identified a genuine dispute about the farmers’ rights and obligations,” even if the regulations create financial hardship, are futile and provide little environmental benefit.
Prescott, Russell, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry GFO director Markus Haerle said the association is running out of legal options.
“We have to live with regulation the way it is,” he said. “There’s not many more steps to go to on the legal level.”
Haerle, who started planting corn on his farm on April 25, will be using neonics on 90 per cent of his farm this year because pest assessments show he needed it. He’s concerned that farmers won’t feel the true consequences of the regulations for a few years, when pests populations have had the opportunity to fully grow. There’s also a concern whether the government is going to reassess new products and add them to the pesticide class that was created specifically for neonics.