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Neonic controversy shouldn’t affect canola producers

Ontario eyes restricting use of popular pesticide after bee deaths

The latest salvo in the ongoing controversy over neonicotinoids won’t affect Alberta canola growers, but it reinforces the need to “get the message out,” says the chairman of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

Ontario’s new agriculture minister, Jeff Leal surprised and angered that province’s grain and oilseeds producers last month by saying he’s considering restrictions on the use of the widely used pesticide because it’s been linked to extensive bee kills in 2012 and 2013. The province hasn’t provided details on how a licensing system might work, but the move is another sign that neonicotinoids have joined gestation crates and GMOs as a major target for farm activist groups.

However, producers in this province have a strong case to show they’re using the pesticide, also called neonics, in a safe manner, said Alberta canola commission chairman Colin Felstad.

“We’re probably in a different situation than Ontario growers,” said Felstad, who crops 3,700 acres near Dapp, northwest of Edmonton.

"There's certainly a concern that we could lose valuable tools." – Colin Felstad

“There’s certainly a concern that we could lose valuable tools.” – Colin Felstad
photo: Supplied

“From my understanding the concern has been about the dust coming off corn seed treatments and the type of planters they’ve been using (in Ontario). But in terms of canola, there’s no dust given off during seeding, so we’re not as worried as the corn people.”

But Alberta canola growers can’t afford to be complacent because issues like this one can take on a life of their own, he added.

“There’s certainly a concern that we could lose valuable tools,” said Felstad. “We live in a society where everything moves quickly. As farm groups and farmers, we have to be more nimble and react quickly.

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“The trouble with these types of issues is that gathering scientific data doesn’t happen overnight. That’s part of the problem in Ontario — they’re still studying the data and I don’t think anyone has come to any firm conclusions.”

Different on the Prairies

But there is solid evidence that using neonics as a seed coating for canola is not a threat to bees, said Gregory Sekulic, Canola Council of Canada agronomy specialist for Peace Country.

“We do things differently on the Prairies,” said Sekulic. “There are a few vacuum planters but the bulk of our delivery systems are gravity or pressure air based, which puts the seed right into the ground where it’s covered. So we don’t see that environmental release.

“We’re also seeding at a substantially lower rate, so the amount of the product we’re putting down is substantially less.”

Not only have there been no “acute poisoning” of bees as was seen two years ago near some Ontario cornfields, studies have found neonic residue levels in canola pollen and nectar are well below harmful levels, he said.

“If you take a step back and look at the whole picture, what we’ve got here is an example of how well we are safeguarding the use of this product,” said Sekulic.

His organization is trying to make the public aware that neonics are being used responsibly by canola growers, said Felstad.

“We’re not media people or even super media savvy, but we do our best to get our message out.”

Part of that effort is a series of videos created by the Canola Council of Canada, which features canola growers and beekeepers — including several from Alberta — standing side by side in fields talking about how they work together.

They also highlight the need to spray canola before flowering whenever possible, keep in close contact with beekeepers who keep hives in or near your fields, and to minimize risk by using reduced-drift nozzles and spraying after 8 p.m. or before bees are active in the morning.

The videos can be found on the Canola Council of Canada website.

About the author

Editor

Glenn Cheater is a veteran journalist who has covered agriculture for more than two decades. His mission is to showcase the ideas, passions, and stories of Alberta farmers and ranchers.

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