BY NOW YOU will have heard of the intention of the provincial government to obtain an 80 per cent reduction in the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seeds by 2017. One way to describe my feelings about this announcement is disappointment. There are other ways to describe it, but we will leave it with disappointment.
All of the work that Grain Farmers of Ontario has put into the issue of pollinator health over the past two years has been ignored. We were proactive in identifying what we could do as farmers to mitigate the exposure risk to pollinators, even without conclusive evidence to support a link between neonicotinoids and reported bee deaths. We invested our farmer-members’ dollars into research being conducted by our government and industry partners. And we invested our staff’s time into the development and promotion of new procedures that were widely adopted by farmers during the 2014 planting season.
However, the positive results we have witnessed through the use of deflectors, Fluency Agent, and other best management practices have not been acknowledged. Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency reports a 70 per cent reduction in the number of bee deaths in 2014 compared to 2013. They also note that there is still a need for further research in order to understand the state of bee health in Canada.
The provincial government’s decision to curb the use of neonicotinoids is purely political and is not evidence or science-based. Premier Kathleen Wynne says she has a vision for job growth and economic prosperity in Ontario and yet she is implementing legislation that will create a significant hardship for farmers in Ontario. She should not underestimate the impact the 80 per cent restriction will have on the yields of Ontario farms. Nor should she underestimate the detrimental implications on environmental stewardship if alternative farming practices and crop protection methods are needed when seed treatments are in effect banned.
A consultation process is underway by the provincial government which includes a call for comments and a series of public consultation meetings. Grain Farmers of Ontario has developed a resource for farmers who wish to submit a letter to the provincial government stating their objection to the proposed restriction. As an organization, we will not participate in the public meetings, but did attend an invitation-only event for industry stakeholders held in mid-December.
We feel the real consultation period has already taken place over the past 600 days — through the meetings and working groups we have participated in and the on-farm actions we have taken to make real improvements to pollinator health. I don’t know what can be learned from 60 days of meetings with the general public, or what Wynne could possibly hear that would change her mind about implementing this arbitrary restriction.
The highly politicized way in which this restriction is being brought about raises a broader concern about the business environment the government is creating in our province. Those looking to expand their business or move their business into Ontario will be hesitant to do so and will not be willing to risk their investment dollars if the government is operating under a misguided precautionary principal and not a science based regulatory system. If Wynne’s government has taken this attitude towards the grain and oilseeds industry then they can also impose arbitrary restrictions on others.
As we head into our January district meetings, this issue will be front and centre. Grain Farmers of Ontario will be developing our own proposal on the responsible use of neonicotinoids and sharing it with the Premier, the agriculture minister, and the environment and climate change minister. We will be discussing this proposal at the district meetings. I encourage you to attend and learn more about the efforts we are taking on your behalf. •