Neonics Waiting Game for Corn and Soybean Farmers

In My Take by James Tost

Ontario’s corn and soybean growers have been caught in a waiting game that is seriously complicating their planting programs for 2016. Timing and launch of the province’s new seed treatment regulations is an overriding concern for the Grain Farmers of Ontario, which represents about 28,000 corn, soybean and wheat farmers. The GFO holds its annual convention this week in London.

At an Ontario Court of Appeal hearing earlier this month in Toronto, a panel of judges reserved decision on GFO’s challenge of new pesticide regulations. Chair Mark Brock says the GFO will continue to press for more manageable targets in the new regulations.

Ontario’s corn and soybean farmers have used seeds that are treated with neonicotinoid insecticides to protect crops from insect pests such as corn rootworms, cutworms, wireworms and aphids. Soybean aphids, for example, can cause yield losses estimated at up to 50% if untreated.

Neonicotinoid insecticides can be applied directly to seeds as a seed treatment to protect young plants against early-season pests and allow the plants to become established. No till operations offer the benefit of reduced soil erosion but might be even more vulnerable to insects without the use of insecticides.

However, synthetic neonicotinoid insecticides have been under ongoing scrutiny as a possible cause of a decline in honey bee and bee pollinator populations. In 2015, Ontario introduced new requirements for buying and using neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed. As a transitionary period, the regulations provided farmers with two options for the 2016 planting season. They could either plant less than 50% of their corn or soybean acreage with treated seeds without having to complete a pest assessment report or complete a pest assessment report if they aim to plant more than 50% with treated seeds. In the future, farmers would be required to prepare reports to use treated seeds on any of their lands.

Ontario corn and soybean growers fear that aggressive seed treatment restrictions will reduce their 2016 crop yields, increase their costs and possibly cause some farmers to reduce their acreage. A report prepared for the Conference Board of Canada has estimated the potential decrease in farm revenue at $630 million annually. Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada and the U.S. to restrict the use of seeds treated with neonicotinoids.

The GFO is looking to the court system to open the door for further discussion and clarification of the new regulations. The grain farmers have taken the position that research is inconclusive on the impact of neonics on bee mortality and that changes in planting practices in recent years have already helped to reduce bee mortality by 80%.

Ontario and its farmers have made huge strides in recent years to protect the environment through sustainable farming practices. For corn and soybean growers, the urgent challenge this year will be reach a more workable plan for seed treatment regulations.