After losing an Ontario Court of Appeal decision on the province’s new seed treatment regulations, what strategy should Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) now pursue on the neonic issue?
We put the question to GFO chair Mark Brock. We’re also interested in your opinion. It appears the farm organization has three strategic options. Let us know what you think in our Real Agriculture poll.
The GFO could simply continue to fight provincial regulations impacting grain farmers using all available legal means. A second option would be to measure the financial impact from loss of seed treatments and build a case to fight regulations during an expected 2018 provincial election. A third option would be to throw in the towel and accept regulations impacting farming technology and practices and focus on helping members prepare for a new environmental reality for farms in Ontario.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of appetite to keep going to the court system,” admits Brock. “We found out that the court system is very detailed and has a lot of rules. One thing we’ve realized is just because we feel it isn’t a practical regulation doesn’t mean it’s going to work in our favour.”
While it’s unlikely to see GFO back in court on the matter any time soon, Brock doesn’t feel farmers want to give up the fight. He believes the vast majority of GFO members appreciate the organization’s efforts and want them to “do whatever you can to help us out.”
GFO has now hired consulting firm BDO to conduct an audit of the impact the new seed treatment regulations will have on grain farmers over the next three years. Getting a handle on what losing access to seed treatments costs farmers and the industry will be a key focus. Whether financial facts can influence the existing regulation remains a question “but hopefully it can have influence on any new ones or adding new products to this whole process,” says Brock.
BDO will be looking to document issues where replants are required because growers didn’t have access to seed treatments; where pest assessments indicated seed treatments were not required, but loss occurred; and the amount of time required to meet the new regulatory requirements.
“I’ve talked to a couple of farmer/seed dealers who say they have over 100 hours wrapped up with helping producers with their paperwork. What’s that cost going to be as we move into a more restrictive regulation next year?” asks Brock.
Will the Ontario government be willing to consider documented, factual evidence gathered by BDO? Brock hopes so, but if the Ontario Liberal government is not willing to listen, grain farmers have to be ready to tell their story.
“We are going to hit an election in June 2018. I think we need to build a case around this to challenge all parties … and how it’s important to have good, strong, factual-based regulations in place that support industry, not tear it down,” says Brock.
The story grain farmers share on the campaign trail will likely begin to take shape in the weeks ahead. With planting season temperatures expected to be below normal for the next two weeks, Brock believes a troublesome tale could start to unfold.
“I think the agronomist in me says this is going to be the year that you need a neonic seed treatment,” says Brock. “We could have seed lay in the ground for three weeks. We’ve actually been quite fortunate over the past three or four years.”