FARMERS IN ONTARIO are early adopters of new technology. Access to precision farming tools has lowered input costs, new chemistry has improved yields, and advancements in breeding and genetics has produced crops with the characteristics end users desire. Grain Farmers of Ontario has done its part to support these advancements through research and market development investments. However, some of our delegates are beginning to question the value of these investments given the negative perception of biotechnology and modern farming practices that is prevalent in many parts of the world — particularly key export markets such as the European Union (EU) and China.
Farmers are right to be concerned. In June, the license for glyphosate expired in the EU. Even before it underwent an official review, there were talks of banning the product in several member countries. Months of indecision fuelled by lobbyists led to a last minute ruling to extend the license for 18 months. It isn’t likely a final decision will be made easily — news reports of the extension were headlined with words such as “controversial chemical” and “cancer causing”.
The EU is known for dragging its feet when it comes to regulating new products, so perhaps this delay in the re-registration of a product which has been safely used for more than 40 years wasn’t totally unexpected. However, this type of uncertainty puts our whole industry into disarray. We don’t know what will be the next product to be taken off the shelves or which new technology available in North America will never be used due to regulatory roadblocks in other countries.
No doubt some of you have had your orders for Xtend soybeans on hold for quite a while. The lengthy approval process for this new crop system is one example of how our industry advancement is being held back. Farmers want access to this technology for a number of reasons — but we wouldn’t have a market to sell this crop to.
We can’t control the regulatory decisions of other nations, nor would we want others to make our decisions for us. That means there is no easy solution to this problem. We will continue to support innovative research and market development initiatives, and work through government relations to strengthen a science-based approach to agriculture at all levels both here in Canada and internationally. There will be returns for Ontario grain farmers but it’s a long-term investment. •