Ontario Grain Farmers lost the first round of its court battle to contest the province’s new seed treatment regulations, but the fight will continue.
“At the end of the day this has always been a fight on principle,” says GFO Chair Mark Brock. “I don’t think we want to tuck tail and run because we got a ruling not in our favour the first time.”
On Oct. 23, the Ontario Superior Court denied GFO’s request for a stay and interpretation on the province’s new seed treatment regulations, which limit the use of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed. Undaunted, the GFO was back in Ontario Divisional Court on Nov. 3 to appeal the decision to deny the request for a stay. The farm organization is also planning to submit an appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal regarding the dismissal of its main request, which includes the interpretation of the regulations.
“We’re appealing because when you look at the ruling from the judge, there was a feeling that he made some errors in his ruling in terms of law,” Brock explains. “We felt comfortable there’s grounds for an appeal.”
Brock says the organization is hopeful of a positive result, but they are grounded in the reality of the situation. “Nothing seems to surprise us any more in terms of the issues around neonics. I think it just speaks to how complicated the situation is in terms of even getting someone from the courts to understand farming and agronomics.”
Under the new regulations, this fall farmers will have to fill out a Seed Amount Declaration if they plan to use neonicotinoid-treated seed on 50 percent of their total corn or soybean crop. They must also complete a pest assessment and Pest Assessment Report for their sales representative, seed vendor or custom seed treater to be able to plant neonicotinoid-treated seed.
Brock says farmers are grappling with the requirements and a lot of them are frustrated. “What looks simple on paper to some people can be very hard to implement,” he says, adding that many farmers are now seeing why GFO took such issue with the regulations.
Brock believes that frustration will only escalate next year when farmers will be required to complete integrated pest management (IPM) training, compete a Pest Assessment Report and have it subject to third-party review.
“The only thing we can do is continue to express our frustration with it, the lack of practicality to it, and hope that at some point the government has the appetite to revisit the whole situation,” says Brock. Continuing the court action is part of that strategy.
Some people may see the court action as a knee jerk reaction to the seed treatment issue, but Brock considers it more proactive to meet future issues head on. The potential for agriculture being targeted in the Great Lakes water quality spotlight, which includes algae blooms in Lake Erie, is just one industry challenge looming on the horizon.
“We see more issues coming down the road where government can react to public opinion and develop a regulation that may not have a lot of basis in science, but has a significant impact on (agriculture) the number two economic driver in the province,” says Brock.
GFO says it hopes the court decisions will be made prior to the 2016 planting season. “It’s getting pretty late in the calendar to have much impact on purchasing this year,” admits Brock. He’s looking further down the road when similar situations arise. “I think, if anything, government looks at it now and says this is not going to be as easy next time. Maybe, from both sides, there can be a better way to accomplish common goals.”