Despite the amount of red tape involved to get approval to use neonicotinoid-treated seeds, almost half of Ontario corn and soybean seeds planted last spring were treated with the insecticide, according to numbers from OMAFRA and the Ministry of the Environment.
However, the corn acreage numbers are higher than expected, according to seed dealers. The two government agencies said of 2.155-million acres of corn planted last year, 1.4-million acres (or 65 per cent) used neonic seeds.
The numbers are tallied from documents that have to be submitted by seed companies by October of each year. Steve Denys, Maizex director of business management, said some of the discrepancy could be explained. For instance, seed companies submit how many bags of neonic-treated seeds they sold, but it is up to the ministries to convert those numbers into acres. Changing the application rate would impact the number of acres. As well, while some companies are transitioning from neonics to non-neonics, there was still neonic-treated inventory.
Denys said he would have estimated a 50/50 split between neonic and non-neonic corn acres for 2018.
A Pioneer seed dealer said about 90 per cent of corn acres sold from Pioneer last year would have used Lumivia, a non-neonic alternative. Pioneer sells more corn seed in Ontario than any other seed company.
Overall, farmers planted 5.175-million acres of corn and soybean seeds last year, of which 2.45-million acres (47 per cent) were planted with neonic-treated seeds, according to the ministries.
In 2014, the provincial Liberal government announced legislation to drastically curb the use of neonic seeds in order to protect bees. The Grain Farmers of Ontario argued that the province was listening to environmentalists and anti-agriculture activists while ignoring other bee stressors such as poor weather, poor-quality queens, hive management practices and pests and parasites.
When the province announced its neonic legislation, farmers were planting about 4-million acres of neonic-treated seed. The Liberal government wanted neonic use reduced by 80 per cent by 2017. If that were to happen, farmers would be planting only 800,000 acres of neonic-treated seed by now.
Farmers now need a pest assessment on all fields that use neonics. Some farmers say it takes an hour of paperwork and scouting for every 100 acres of farmland they plant and most counties need a professional pest advisor to do the work.
There are now neonic alternatives for both crops. For corn, DuPont Pioneer’s Lumivia and Syngenta’s Fortenza have both been released in the past couple of years, while DuPont’s Lumiderm will be available for soybeans starting this year.