By Tom Collins
PICTON — New and controversial provincial seed regulations are causing some farmers to spend days filling out the needed paperwork to be allowed to use an insecticide-seed treatment called neonicotinoids this spring.
It took Trevor Crowe of Reynolds Farms at Picton about 40 hours to do the paperwork, which doesn’t include the half-day course that farmers have to take to be allowed to use neonics. It also doesn’t include the actual scouting for pests that most farmers completed last fall. In total, Crowe — who farms with his father Lloyd and great-uncle Larry Reynolds — submitted documents to crop 4,000 acres covering 40 separate locations. The scouting 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 Crowe. “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. I kept telling my dad ‘I’m not doing it.’ But then it eventually got passed off to me because I’m basically the only person who can do it.”
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. Almost all of the corn seeds in Ontario and 60 per cent of soybean seeds were treated with neonics. The province argues that neonics are killing honeybees. The Grain Farmers of Ontario say the province is short on science and is siding with environmentalists.
One of the challenging aspects for Crowe was figuring out where corn and soybeans would be planted.
“A lot of farmers don’t figure that out until late spring, depending on the weather or what field is dry,” he said. “It’s basically a high-level guess at this point as to what we think will probably be planted.”
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.
Lloyd Crowe, also a Pioneer seed rep, said the regulations have doubled discussion time he has with farmers to figure out what crops to plant and where. He plans to hold a “neonic paperwork party” at his farm in February to help his customers with the forms.
“Farmers are just lost,” he said. But “without the paperwork, we can’t deliver the seed.”
It took Grain Farmers of Ontario director Markus Haerle 20 hours to complete the paperwork for his 1,900 acres over 27 lots east of Ottawa. He filled out forms to allow neonic use on all 1,900 acres despite the fact that only a little more than half of his acres will have neonic-treated seeds.
“If something happens, say the weather changes and we need to change something in our crop rotations, I don’t want to be limited at the end of the day by not having access to the use of those products,” he said, noting that farmers are frustrated because they feel it won’t have any impact on bee deaths. “That’s why the regulation is not even workable. It doesn’t even make sense because we do not predict the weather.”
Involved in the process when the regulations were presented to the commodity group (last year), Haerle said, “Already at that time, we saw that it was going to be a horrendous amount of work.”
Scott Fife, a Pioneer sales rep and a Finch-area farmer who grows 1,600 acres of soybeans and corn, said it took a 40-hour week to dig the holes and set the traps and scout for pests and complete the paperwork, but only about three or four hours for the paperwork. He expects the spring to generate more red tape issues.
“As a seed salesperson, if a guy asked me for an extra 20 bags of (neonic-treated) beans, I wouldn’t be allowed to give them to him unless he handed me a newly-completed form at that same time,” he said.