Ont. ag minister mandated to cut farmers’ neonic use

(Photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Ontario’s premier has made it part of her agriculture minister’s mandate for the coming crop year to “meaningfully” cut down farmers’ use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

In her mandate letter for Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal, dated Thursday, Premier Kathleen Wynne tasks him to work with Environment Minister Glen Murray, other ministers and “industry partners and stakeholders” on an action plan to “meaningfully reduce neonicotinoid use for the 2015 growing season, including measurable targets.”

Wynne, in her letter, also asks Leal to “develop a system that requires a reduction in the use of seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides for the 2016 growing season.”

Such a system could involve regulations, a permit mechanism or “further measures as needed,” she wrote.

Seed treatment of corn and soybeans with the neonic class of insecticides, such as clothianidin, thiamethoxam or imidacloprid, has recently been blamed in part for declining populations of pollinators such as bees in areas where they may be exposed to dust from planters.

Grain Farmers of Ontario, which represents the province’s corn, soybean and wheat growers, said Friday it’s “concerned with the direction” of Wynne’s mandate letter for Leal.

“It’s critical that any action forward is made with a clear understanding of the realities of grain farming and careful consideration to the requirements of grain farmers,” GFO chair Henry Van Ankum said in a release.

“A misstep in the regulatory process, particularly at a time when crop prices are at a four-year low, could mean the difference between profit and loss for countless grain farmers across the province.”

GFO members and the province’s grain industry “have demonstrated a strong commitment to the issue of pollinator health over the past two years,” he said.

“We know that our efforts to improve the situation are paying off with early indications from Health Canada reporting a decline in bee deaths over the past year.”

The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, in its separate annual report in July on bee winterkill, pegged the average level of wintering loss in 2013-14 across Canada at 25 per cent, noting Ontario’s winterkill rate sat at 58 per cent. [Related story]

Removing Ontario from the calculations drops the national winterkill average to 19.2 per cent, a figure that’s still high compared to a “long-term acceptable level” of winterkill losses at 15 per cent, CAPA said.

On top of the “cold and long” winter and other causes, CAPA said some beekeepers in both Ontario and Quebec cited “acute and chronic pesticide damage or lack of sufficient recovery from a pesticide incident the previous year as a contributing factor in winter mortality.”

A London, Ont. law firm specializing in class-action suits also recently announced plans to file against Bayer and Syngenta on behalf of Canadian beekeepers and honey producers, claiming financial losses in both lost hives and lost honey. [Related]

GFO said Friday it expects “any changes to regulations around the use of neonicotinoids will be guided by grain industry experts, to ensure a practical and logical course of action is taken.” — AGCanada.com Network



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