Here Comes the Red Tape: Ontario Rolls Out Final Regulation on Accessing Neonic-Treated Soy and Corn Seed

Ontario’s government today unveiled the final version of the regulations governing the use of neonicotinoid-treated soybean and corn seeds. If you can hardly tell the difference from the proposed regulation launched late in 2014, you can be forgiven — the final regulation is only slightly tweaked from the original proposal.

Ontario’s Ministry of Environment of Climate Change held a technical briefing today to outline the final regulation, and are sticking with their goal of an 80% acre reduction in neonic-treated soy and corn seed planted by 2017, combined with a reduced bee hive over wintering loss at 15%. But more on that later.

The ministry will phase-in the red tape required to access the seeds, referred to as “the new class 12 pesticide” for most of the conference call, beginning this fall. As before, farmers will be able to order neonic-treated soy and corn seed for 50% of their planned soy and corn acres without any pest assessment. Over and above 50%, however, and farmers themselves can provide proof via a pest assessment (more on that here) for the fall of 2015 only.

Beginning next fall, access to all neonic-treated corn and soy will have to be accompanied by documentation that proves it is necessary. Farmers will have to have completed an integrated pest managment course and sign a declaration saying the pesticide is required. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will be paying for the IPM training, but there was no dollar figure attached to said training.

Also of note, next fall heralds in the dawning of what we’ll call the Oversight Era of Ontario agriculture. Third-party pest assessment experts will begin performing the assessments in 2016 and will be fully phased-in (while farmer-led assessments are phased out) by 2020. After that, professional pest advisors sign-off would be required every third year, assuming you still want access to neonics.

As for who qualifies to be a professional pest advisor? This is one area where MOECC says it has tweaked the original regulations — allowing for more time for training of new assessors (no dollar figure was quoted for this), and for the use of students under the authority of pest assessors to do the scouting and sign off.

The province says another change is in relation to the phase-in requirements for pest assessments, which will now be more equal across the province and done on a county by county basis and not by larger geographic area.

Farmers and industry voiced several concerns going into the final phase of the consultation process; some of these concerns were brought up during the technical briefing. Of note, it’s not clear where MOECC sourced the information for the thresholds for grubs and wireworms, however they’re designed to allow for 15% loss in corn and 30% loss in soybeans before access to neonics is allowed. (You can read more on that here). There are provisions for in-crop damage assessments in the guide, as well, which may be the only way farmers who require “proof” this fall will be able to provide it.

Farmers who have mid-season insect losses that could have been prevented by using a neonic treatment will be covered under crop insurance, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, because it’s not a “preventable loss” if farmers didn’t meet the threshold ahead of the growing season.

And what of those that don’t comply, or those that choose to source their treated seed out of province? They are subject to “significant” fines and are subject to the pesticide act and regulations as soon as the “class 12 pesticide” is “used” (read: planted) in Ontario. Farmers who buy seed elsewhere must still demonstrate the need and have all the records to say they are allowed to use them…though there were no details given about who or how this would be policed.

What about insects beyond wireworm and grubs also on the neonic label? A MOECC representative says you’ll have to rely on integrated pest management for control. Access to neonics is linked only to those pests named in the guideline document.

The government says these neonic regs are only one part of a broader Pollinator Health Action Plan that is still under development. The action plan will address other stresses that impact pollinator health, namely pollinator habitat and nutrition; disease, pests and genetics; and, climate change and weather. A forum on the Pollinator Health Action Plan will be held in the fall of 2015, the province says.

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Lyndsey Smith

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor for RealAgriculture. A self-proclaimed agnerd, Lyndsey is passionate about all things farming but is especially thrilled by agronomy and livestock production.

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