Ontario considers regulating neonic seed treatments, but farmers seen needing more information

Ontario is considering regulations on neonic seed treatments that would limit the practice so thoroughly as to effectively ban it, a Canadian agriculture supporter said.

While the policy doesn’t explicitly ban the use of neonicotinoids, or neonics, the cost of complying with the regulation for farmers is an estimated $24 million. This prohibitive expense makes the new regulations an effective ban for many Canadian farmers.

Neonics are also used on a wide variety of plants, including much of Canada’s corn, soybean and canola crops, making the potential impact of the proposal dramatic.

Still, that isn’t the biggest problem, according to the editor of RealAgriculture.com, Lyndsey Smith. The real problem is how slowly the new regulations are being revealed. When asked, the Ministry of the Environment responds that they are unable to comment as policy decisions are yet to be finalized.

“Neonics protect against early-season insects as well as somewhat later,” Smith said. “So if we’ve got farmers who are trying to order seed in the fall they don’t know what kind of information they need to provide.”

While the regulations are phased in, things are even more unclear. While half of a farmer’s crop can be treated with neonics in the upcoming year, those who need more than that must meet a threshold. However, the Ministry of the Environment has been less than forthcoming about what the criteria for meeting that threshold would be, Smith said.

The ministry has also not released its own official estimates of the costs of the regulations, leaving only third-party estimates available.

Similarly, the ministry’s report focuses heavily on neonics and no other pollinator health concerns. Neonic use was only one of nine topics discussed in Canada’s pollinator health report, which was released Wednesday.

“That’s one of the biggest points that many are irritated by in all of this,” Smith said, “that banning neonics doesn’t ban farmers from using insecticides.”

And while the ministry focuses on that one product to the exclusion of others, it fails to consider the infestations that neonics prevent; notably one just to Ontario’s southwest.

“If you look at a current infestation, the emerald ash bore, which is moving from Michigan and going in all directions, one of the main controls for that is neonicotinoid insecticides that can be injected into the root system and control this invasive pest,” said Pete Nowak, professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Nowak is concerned that the controversy over neonic crop science will expand beyond that field into turf and ornamental use, which would place Canadian trees at great risk of emerald ash bore infestation.

“It just seems to me that it’s an overreaction at this point, based on the available science trying to point out exactly where the causes of bee decline are coming from,” Nowak said.

Ontario’s managed bees generate nearly $900 million of the roughly $6.7 billion in sales for agricultural crops grown in the province every year, according to the ministry.