Grain farmers angry at Ontario goal to ban most neonic seeds
By Patrick Meagher
ST. ISIDORE The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change blindsided Ontarios crop farmers Nov. 25 by unexpectedly announcing that it would work “towards a goal of 80 per cent reduction in the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 2017.”
The Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) was quick to reply on its website under the headline: “Grain farming under attack by government.”
The grain farmers stated they were “confounded” by the announcement that “flies in the face of numerous efforts and investments made by grain farmers across the province to mitigate risks to bee health.”
GFO chairman Henry Van Ankum offered a blistering denunciation of the provinces decision. “The new regulation is unfounded, impractical, and unrealistic and the government does not know how to implement it,” Van Ankum said. “With this announcement, agriculture and rural Ontario has been put on notice the popular vote trumps science and practicality.”
The provincial announcement came as a big disappointment to the GFO director for Glengarry, Stormont, Dundas, and Prescott-Russell, Markus Haerle, who said the decision was hard to accept and made farmers nervous about their own government.
“I think there are some more regulations to come and more changes in the whole agriculture industry,” he said, adding that Minister of Environment Glen Murray wants to be seen as maintaining the ecosystem.
Almost all corn and soybean seeds sold in Ontario are treated with neonicotinoid insecticide. Haerle said that crop farmers went to great lengths to attach dust deflectors to planters and put a fluency agent on their seeds to prevent neonic dust. The results this year were astounding with GFO reporting that bee deaths dropped by 70 per cent.
“Personally, I was very surprised at how well the fluency agent worked,” Haerle said.
Many farmers see the neonic announcement as a consistent play for a province that appears to be cozying up to environmentalist groups. The province is considered the greenest region in North America at the expense of escalating energy costs to cover wind and solar power.
Even some beekeepers said Ontarios actions were premature and overreaching. Alberta beekeeper Lee Townsend, former vice-president of the Canadian Honey Council, argued that “Ontario truly caved in to environmentalist groups. Theyre just going to stick their heads in the sand and blame farmers.”
Townsend said that neonics are one of numerous pressures on bees and, while practically banning neonics goes too far, the bee lobby is dominated by small operators and hobbyists who are inexperienced. He added that Ontario also announced that it wanted to see overwintering bee losses reduced to 15 per cent by 2020 “but they dont say how beekeepers are going to do that.”
How do you do that? “Management and, at times, a lot of luck,” he said. “Fifteen per cent loss might have been the norm 15 or 20 years ago but nobody in the world is seeing that anymore. You might see that one year out of five. Across the Prairies, annual losses are 15 to 20 per cent while in Ontario annual losses are 20 to 30 per cent.”
Townsend added that it has to frustrate farmers to cut back on neonic-treated seeds but beekeepers dont have to cut back on chemical treatments when many of them misuse it and are responsible for killing their own bees.
Ontario Independent Commercial Beekeepers Association president Hugh Simpson agreed with the provincial decision but said the process was botched. “My view has always been that there has not been effective collaboration among stakeholders.” He said that all stakeholders were at fault for lack of co-operation and compromise. He added: “It is the right thing to do from the point-of-view of urban public opinion.”
In a later interview, Van Ankum also blamed the province for appeasing environmentalists.
“This is being driven straight from the top from the premier,” he said. “She is determined to be the leader in North America on this issue. As minister of agriculture, she got just enough exposure at just the wrong time to get a healthy drink of the Kool-Aid on this issue and at the end of the day, her constituency is the GTA. They got a majority and they didnt need a single rural seat to do it.
“Theres a lot of frustration and anger among grain farmers in the province. I think the premier is offering up the grain industry to take it on the chin to support an environmental agenda.”
Van Ankum said that the seed treatment protects yield and that an 80 per cent reduction will mean lower yields, lost income, and an increase in more chemical spraying, which he believed puts bees more at risk.
“There was no consideration of the financial impact to the farming economy or the spillover effects,” Van Ankum said. Ontario will look at restricting seed sales because banning neonics is a federal government decision “and Health Canada is doing an extensive review of neonics and will weigh in on that next year. Ontario has jumped out way ahead of the gun on this.”
The provinces proposal to limit neonic-treated seeds will be subject to public consultations but is expected to be approved, meaning Ontario would become the first province or state in North America to ban the pesticide.