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Restricting Neonics Could Have a Huge Economic Impact

GFO Says Grain Farmers Could Take a $630M Hit Per Year in Lost Revenues

By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com

Ontario is looking to restrict the use of neonicotinoids, or neonics for short - a move that Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) argues could pose as a significant economic threat to conventional grain farmers.

According to a report which is expected to be released soon by the Conference Board of Canada, restricting the use of neonics, a class of pesticides, could reduce revenues for corn and soybean production by more than $630 million per year in Ontario. Barry Senft, CEO of GFO shared the figure with Farms.com in a telephone interview. The commissioned report is expected to be released to the public sometime next week.

“The issue is that a lot of these things [policy ideas] are talked about from a general perspective," explained Senft. “ It might sound very practical in the middle of Toronto, but the fact of the matter is that these are very complex issues,” adding that a restriction of the use of neonics is not a black and white issue.

Neonics are a controversial topic because some scientific evidence suggests that neonics may be one of the leading causes of bee mortality. But scientists have also said that neonics aren’t the only threat to pollinators, especially bees, that mites and diseases can also cause significant bee mortality rates.

Additionally, the consequences of restricting access to neonic treated seed should also be examined. Farmers may resort to older farming methods including spraying their field (from the ground or plane) using other insecticides deemed more dangerous to human health and pollinators including honeybees. Neonics which are coated on seeds prior to planting are commonly used in agriculture because it boosts crop yield, reduces field pests and perhaps most importantly is less toxic to humans.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal said “our intention is to move away from the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides.” The provincial government is looking at potentially requiring farmers to apply for a licence in order to purchase neonic-treated corn and soybean seeds, but no policy or legislation has been introduced yet.

Leal says he plans to consult with industry stakeholders including: farmers, beekeepers, processors and agricultural chemical company representatives to decide the best way forward.  “Over the coming months I want to first consult with industry, farmers and environmental stakeholders on options that are practical, including the consideration of a license system,” he said. “I am committed to finding a balanced approach, based in science, that addresses the important role both pollinators and growers play in Ontario’s agri-food industry.”

Senft questioned the minister’s intensions noting that it is unclear how a licensing system would work and what it would mean for grain growers, adding that it will be difficult for farmers to plan for next year’s planting season. It has been suggested that a new rule on neonics could come into effect as early as spring 2015, leaving little time for farmers to plan ahead, as most farmers buy their seed in the fall.

A staffer from the minister’s office confirmed on Wednesday with Farms.com that Leal and a representative from GFO spoke over the phone recently about addressing the neonic issue.  “The Minister had a productive conversation with GFO yesterday, and looks forward to continuing dialogue,” he said.

If Ontario decides to move ahead with restricting neonics, it would make it the first province in Canada to take such an action. Farms.com put in a request for federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to comment on the subject and his staff provided the following response attributed to the minister:

"Our Government has committed significant investments in research to support Canadian bee colonies. We will continue to base our decisions on sound science."


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