Pesticide rules hurting farmers, says consultant

Producers north of the border have access to fewer modes of action and active ingredients

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Canadian farmers are losing much-needed pest management products to red tape.

“We’re losing products faster than we’re bringing them in,” said Ron Pidskalny, an Edmonton-based consultant with a background in herbicide development and agronomy.

“We’re in a situation where we’re actually ending up with fewer active ingredients than we had before.

“The tool box is becoming less diverse.”

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The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) — a branch of Health Canada — is slowly chipping away at products producers rely on to manage pests on their farm, Pidskalny said at a recent Next Level Farming event in Lacombe.

“The PMRA is terminating efficacious and cost-effective active ingredients and actually impeding the registration of new best management tools.”

And Canadian producers will become less competitive as a result.

“The loss of pest management tools due to regulatory issues affects you directly on the farm,” said the owner of Strategic Vision Consulting. “We have very few new products coming in and a lot of older products that are being pushed off the shelves.

“Why are we not getting new tools for producers to use?”

As the regulatory system becomes less competitive and more complex to navigate, the cost of pest management products will continue to rise — putting a dent in farm margins.

“Ultimately, it becomes less profitable to farm if we keep moving on the trajectory we’re on,” said Pidskalny. “How long, as growers, can you continue to produce crops profitably if the number of active ingredients you have access to in Canada continues to decline?”

American growers aren’t facing these same problems, he added.

“In the U.S., there’s greater competition — more choice for commercial products, more manufacturers, more distributors, more retail sale locations,” he said, adding prices also tend to be lower.

“This isn’t a good-news story for us.”

He pointed to wheat and barley, saying Canadian farmers have access to five modes of action and 10 different active ingredients, while U.S. farmers have seven modes of action and 15 different active ingredients. In dry beans, there are 12 different modes of action and 34 active ingredients in the U.S. versus five and 10 respectively.

“If you want to use imidicloprid (the active ingredient in some seed treatments), you have two products you can buy in the marketplace,” said Pidskalny. “In the U.S., they have 27 products sold by an array of different companies in an array of different formulations at substantially lower prices.”

In field peas, both countries have six modes of action. But in Canada, there are 11 active ingredients, while the U.S. has 17 active ingredients.

“In peas, we’re looking at the same number of modes of action, but insects aren’t necessarily resistant to a mode of action completely,” said Pidskalny.

Marketplace size

But it’s marketplace — not the regulatory system — that is to blame for this disparity, said a Health Canada official.

“Discrepancy with regards to certain pesticides being available in the U.S. and not in Canada is often a result of the manufacturer deciding, for business reasons, to apply for approval only in one country,” spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said in an email.

“The larger U.S. market makes a better case for a larger number of products.”

Generally, pesticides are only phased out because of “unacceptable risks to human health or the environment,” she said.

Health Canada can’t comment on whether the approval process for new products is more complicated here, the review process to approve new active ingredients in Canada takes two years or more and costs over $500,000, said Purdy. In the U.S., that number is closer to $1 million, she said.

But Pidskalny argued that fewer products will lead to resistance problems down the road.

“If you’re rotating your insecticides to try to mitigate the development of resistance to a specific insecticide, you’re going to be a heck of a lot more effective at doing that if you have 12 different modes of action and 34 products to use than if you have five modes of action and only 10 different actives to use,” he said.

“Tools are being lost due to resistance issues, and we don’t have enough modes of action to rotate to. We’re in a pretty sad state.”

The issue also makes Canadian farmers less competitive, said Pidskalny, citing wireworm control as an example.

“Whenever I talk to Canadian producers about insects, the issue of wireworms comes up more and more. But in the U.S., it doesn’t,” said Pidskalny.

He points to Canada’s 2004 decision to ban lindane. The pesticide killed 65 to 70 per cent of resident wireworm larvae and over 85 per cent of new neonate larvae later in the season, he said.

“It would knock back the wireworm population for about three years.”

Neonicotinoids were brought in to replace lindane, but haven’t proven to be as effective.

“Neonics don’t kill many resident larvae. Rather than killing them, they tend to slow them down, but eventually, they start chewing the crop down again,” he said.

American producers have access to 22 active ingredients to control wireworms. Seven were never registered here while others were phased out for various reasons, leaving just four available in Canada with two facing proposed phase-outs, he said.

Science based

Pidskalny also accused the PMRA of “making a lot of assumptions based on very little data, and then it’s extrapolating it to a worst-case scenario.”

“If we’re a scientifically based regulatory environment and Canada stands up to the world and says, ‘We have to resolve our trade issues based on scientific merit,’ why do we have a major regulatory agency that is part of Health Canada declining to support that position?”

Not so, said Purdy.

“Regulatory requirements could cause trade issues if a product is markedly different,” she said.

“However, Canada and the U.S., through NAFTA, have highly aligned processes and data requirements. As such, these barriers are infrequent.

“Canada’s decision to approve a pesticide is made through a science-based decision process with the protection of human health and the environment being of greatest importance.”

But by phasing out old products and failing to register new ones, the PMRA has “really put up a roadblock” to creating an agriculture industry that can compete on the world stage, said Pidskalny.

“We seem to have a disconnect between what we need in order to do that and what PMRA is doing right now,” he said.

He urged his audience at the Next Level Farming event to raise the issue with their MPs.

“Producers really need to get a hold of the powers-that-be who have been elected and bring these issues forward to them to find what can be done at the PMRA to open things up a little bit.”

About the author


Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.



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