Will New Reports Turn the Tide in the Neonic Debate?


It’s been a good news week for Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Mark Brock. But he’s unsure how positive reports on the impacts neonicotinoid seed treatments have on pollinators will affect provincial grain farmers.

Earlier this week, reports from Health Canada and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) delivered a one-two punch supporting the embattled seed treatments. The first report stated: “no potential risk to bees was indicated for seed treatment use,” while the second report supported GFO’s contention that the technology delivers considerable economic value to producers. Health Canada indicates neonicotinoids provide a combined annual benefit for Canadian corn and soybean production ranging from $111.5 to $134.3 million.

The $74.2 to $83.3 million for corn represents 3.2% to 3.6% of the crop’s 2013 farm gate value. For soybeans, $37.3 to $51 million represents 1.5% to 2.1% of the crop’s value.

“We’re pretty happy to see the information come out of both Health Canada and the PMRA,” says Brock who farms near Staffa, Ontario. “It backs up the story we’ve been telling for the last couple of years. With some of the best management practices we’ve implemented, the fluency agent and the dust deflectors, we’re mitigating the risk to pollinators. It also shows that we use the product because it brings economic value to producers.”

Has the tide in the neonic debate finally started to turn in grain farmers’ favour? “We feel that way as producers and as a producer group,” says Brock. “We’ve been very aware of trying to mitigate the risk to any pollinators, both kept and wild. We’ve taken significant steps in adopting new technologies to ensure that we can minimize that risk.”

Brock feels the new reports build on the June 2015 evidence of farmers’ commitment to protect pollinators. That’s when the PMRA reported that for two consecutive years bee deaths during planting had been reduced significantly compared to 2013 levels – death rates dropped by 70% in 2014 and 80% in 2015.

“I think we’re doing our part and yes the tide has turned. There isn’t this pending bee apocalypse that was touted through mainstream media,” says Brock.

Is the Ontario government reading and believing the latest news clippings? “There’s always science that argues science,” says Brock, “but it’s nice to see a report from a federal agency that’s science-based and backs some of the claims we’ve been making.” He’s also encouraged to see that the PMRA report acknowledged the GFO’s long-standing claims when it stated that: “identifying pest pressure poses considerable challenges for growers” and “the value of these seed treatments could be substantial for affected growers.”

Unfortunately, Brock doesn’t believe farmers will see any relief from Ontario’s stringent new neonic seed regulations any time soon. “I’m not sure if we’re going to see a change provincially. The nice thing about this report is we’re seeing sound science come out of a new federal government. They touted that they would make decisions based on science and here’s a great first example that impacts us as grain producers.”

Brock expects lots of farmer discussion on the neonic issue during GFO’s district meetings, which kick off this week. “A lot of them are sharing their frustration and asking ‘why are we stuck with this legislation when you have a report come out that says there really isn’t any harm and there is economic value’,” says Brock.

He adds that many farmers are concerned that the provincial government will take a similar, tough regulatory approach as it sets its sights on tackling the environment impact that phosphorus is having on the Great Lakes. This issue is expected to be at the top of the province’s environmental agenda in 2016.

Related stories:

Did Farmers Just Save the Bees Before Glen Murray Could?

Standing on Principle: Neonic Court Battle Will Continue, says GFO Chair

Corn School: 4 Options for Ordering Treated Seed this Fall

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