Move away from neonics not reflected in MOECC corn planting statistics


Following significant restrictions by the Ontario government in 2015, seed corn companies in the province began to offer non-neonicotinoid seed treatment insecticide options. Now, a significant portion of corn seed sales carry non-neonicotinoid options. It’s bizarre then, that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change recently published data showing only a 22% reduction in the amount of neonic-treated corn seed used in 2017.

Ontario’s seed industry is speaking up and asking the provincial government to review its numbers and shed some light on the reporting process after MOECC published data that suggests corn seed neonic treatments were reduced only 22% in 2017.

That number has many within the seed industry scratching their heads, as, beginning in 2015, three of the four largest corn seed suppliers in Ontario started to move away from neonic seed treatments en masse. Pioneer, PRIDE Seeds, and Maizex, representing a huge portion of Ontario corn acres, were among the companies that moved to diamide-based seed treatments, with neonic options either requiring special order or not being offered at all. Monsanto’s Dekalb line still offers neonic seed treatment options based on farmer demand, but the company says they too saw a reduced level of neonic-treated seed orders for 2017 and now into 2018.

Shortly after the provincial restrictions were put in place, Syngenta gained Canadian approval for Fortenza, and DuPont’s Lumivia was also approved. Both seed treatments are from the diamide family, and offer similar insect protection to neonics. Currently, both products are only approved for corn, with a soybean label approval expected sometime in the near future.

Dan Wright, president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association and corn and soybean portfolio lead for Monsanto, says that Ontario’s seed industry has sent a letter to the provincial government asking for clarification on its numbers. “All seed companies have reduced neonic use. We believe the reduction is much lower than the government’s numbers, based on our members’ experiences,” he says.

Steve Denys, Maizex director of business management, says that less than 25% of Maizex corn seed sales for 2018 planting were treated with neonics. “With the diamide options we have, most growers want the simplicity of this option. They have given us very good results in the field.”

It’s important to note, Denys says, that farmers can be in full compliance of the regulation and the province may not reach the stated goal of an 80% reduction in use. “If they are willing to jump through the regulatory hurdles to get it, they can access (neonic-treated corn seed),” he says.

Accurate data matters not just as confirmation of the industry’s proactive measures to limit neonic use, but also because these numbers may inform future restrictions or regulation. The Ontario Bee Association (OBA) has already called on the provincial government to further restrict neonic use (this time on winter wheat,) citing these statistics.

Peter Johnson, RealAgriculture agronomist, farms in Middlesex County — a tier 1 county as it relates to neonic access. He says that for 2018 planting he did his own scouting to qualify for neonic-treated corn seed. This year, he will need a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) to do the pest assessment for him, at his own cost.

Johnson, the former provincial wheat specialist, says that OBA’s calls for further restrictions on winter wheat are uncalled for. He understands the ask is in line with OBA’s stated position on a moratorium on neonic use, but it makes little sense from a risk perspective. “Bees do not forage wheat, and little of the province’s wheat seed is currently treated with an insecticide, unless white grubs are a known pest,” he says.

Johnson says that from a resistance management perspective, it’s unfortunate Ontario farmers have essentially lost the neonic option. “We knew Fortenza and Lumivia were in the pipeline. From a resistance management standpoint, it’s frustrating that now we’re back to a one-product approach to seed insecticide — the very thing that leads to resistance.”

In 2018, farmers in tier 1 counties must have a third-party scout and assess their fields in order to access neonic-treated corn and soybean seed this fall (for 2019). Next year, farmers in tier 2 counties and tier 1 will be required to have a third-party assessment. By 2020, all farmers will have to use third-party assessments to access neonic treatments for corn and soybean. OBA has also renewed its call for the province to review whether CCAs should be allowed to sign-off on assessments, claiming a “conflict of interest and no incentive to recommend non-neonic-treated seeds” if the CCA works for a company that also sells seed.

See the full regulations here.

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