Grain growers are again being urged to heed the labels on their pre-harvest pesticides and avoid going over maximum residue limits.
“We’re selling our crops mostly into export, and our exports markets are very sensitive to residual levels of different crop protection products that we use,” said Alberta Wheat Commission chair Kevin Auch, who farms near Carmangay.
“If we don’t use them properly, we can actually endanger those markets.”
Maximum residue limits can differ from product to product and country to country. Some countries base their limits on the internationally recognized Codex Alimentarius, but others don’t — which can create some challenges when it comes time to market grain.
“It can be a fuzzy area to deal with,” said Sheryl Tittlemier, a research scientist with the Canadian Grain Commission.
“Many of these regulations are not easy to locate, and they may be changing or being re-evaluated. It takes effort to find the appropriate information — it can be challenging for us to get this information too, even with all of our experience.
“I can’t imagine the effort required for someone just beginning to wrap their head around this.”
While the Canadian Grain Commission randomly samples bulk export vessels for residues from more than 120 different chemicals, markets like China can test imports for over 400 chemicals, and have a zero tolerance policy on any residues found.
“An importing country that finds pesticides in grain coming from Canada that do not meet their regulations could see that as a health issue and take action against grain coming from Canada,” said Tittlemier.
“I would say that the likelihood of this appears low based on our monitoring data — we hardly detect any pesticides in Canadian grain exports. However, the potential fallout from a situation occurring is large, particularly if an isolated incident leads to a negative perception that spreads to all grain from Canada.”
In some cases, said Auch, shipments have got close to the maximum residue limits, so “it’s on the radar for some of these countries.”
“If we’re getting close to the maximum, probably there are some farmers who are exceeding those levels and it’s being blended in with guys who aren’t,” he said. “You don’t want to be doing too much of that. If everyone is exceeding those levels, then we will have problems in those markets.”
So far, no shipments of Canadian grain have been rejected because they exceeded the maximum residue limits, but “it could very easily happen if we’re not diligent,” he said.
“If farmers don’t realize it’s a problem, it’s not a problem to that farmer,” said Auch. “We’re trying to alert everybody that this could potentially be a big problem.”
Mitigating the risk
At this point, producers should talk to their grain buyers and “closely consider” which pre-harvest products they’re going to use, as well as making note of any other chemicals they used during the growing season.
“There are a number of products that, even though they are registered for use in Canada, grain treated with them is not going to be accepted at elevators,” said Tittlemier.
Members of the Western Grain Elevator Association, which consists of Western Canada’s major grain companies, won’t buy crops in the new 2017-18 crop year (which started Aug. 1) that have been treated with the following products:
- Chlormequat (Manipulator plant growth regulator) on wheat or any other cereal.
- Quinclorac (including Clever Dry Flow Herbicide) on canola.
- Metconazole (including Quash fungicide) on canola.
- Saflufenacil (Heat LQ) used pre-harvest on flax.
- Fluoxastrobin (including Evito fungicide) on soybeans.
- Benzovindiflupyr (Solatenol) (including Elatus Co-Pack or Trivapro Co-Pack fungicide) on soybeans.
(These five pesticides are listed in the Declaration of Eligibility for Delivery form farmers must sign before delivering grain to an elevator.)
Beyond that, producers should always read and follow the label directions.
“It’s almost cliché, but it is very important — make sure that you’re applying your crop protection products at the right rate and the right times on the right crop,” said Auch.
“If you don’t, that’s where the problems come in.”
With pre-harvest glyphosate, for instance, spraying too early can lead to low levels of the chemical in the grain itself — and “our buyers don’t want to be buying our grain with levels of glyphosate.”
“It should be common sense. But when a guy is busy and it’s harvest time, there is a tendency to cut corners,” said Auch. “Don’t cut those corners because it could jeopardize our markets, and we don’t want to jeopardize our markets. That’s the lifeblood of our farms.
“If we lose them, what are we going to do with 80 per cent of the crop that we grow?”
For more information, go to www.keepingitclean.ca.
– With files from Allan Dawson