Ontario beekeepers drop call for ban on neonics

Group modifies position | Organization maintains position that too many acres receive seeds treated with neonicotinoids

DRESDEN, Ont. — The Ontario Beekeepers Association has backed away from its call for a ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments, according to the organization’s president.

Instead, it has adopted the National Farmers Union position.

Dan Davidson said the organizations are calling on seed to be delivered to growers untreated, who would then have to show that they need to use the insecticide coating.

“The usage needs to be cut back,” Davidson said.

“It only needs to be used on 10 to 20 percent of the corn acres in Ontario (according to Ontario agriculture ministry specialists). Why are we using it on 100 percent of the corn acres, or close to it?”

The OBA and NFU also recommend a permit system for the seed treatments.

Davidson said the proposal would be a win for beekeepers and grain and oilseed growers. Less insecticide would be used, reducing the threat to bees. Growers would have greater choice and the potential of reducing their seed costs.

“Obviously there is a cost for the insecticides,” he said.

“Right now, no one knows (except the crop protection companies) what that is.”

The OBA plans to approach Grain Farmers of Ontario with the proposal.

“We don’t seem to get any support from them no matter what we say … (but) I don’t see why they wouldn’t support this,” Davidson said.

Last fall, seed companies provided Canadian farmers with more choice by allowing seed to be pre-ordered with fungicide treatment but no insecticide treatment.

CropLife Canada spokesperson Nadine Sisk said farmers have always been able to buy untreated seed but have overwhelmingly chosen to use neonicotinoid-treated seed.

“We don’t feel that (the OBA’s proposal) would have the desired impact,” she said.

“First and foremost, we believe the challenge beekeepers face is diverse. This is only one potential cause of bee health challenges.”

Sisk said the new guidelines for growers and the mandated use of new seed lubricant will make a difference.

CropLife Canada has included a focus on pollinator health since the controversy surrounding seed treatments arose.

The Pest Management Review Agency has connected widespread bee deaths in 2012 and 2013 to neonicotinoid-laced dust at planting time.

The findings, along with a study conducted in 2013 by University of Guelph researcher Art Schaafsma and Ontario agriculture ministry entomologist Tracey Baute led to the recommendation that seed treated with fungicide alone should be used in low-risk pest situations.

The PMRA recommendations relate to honeybees being killed outright by the seed treatments. Less is known about potential sub-lethal impacts of the neonicotinoids on pollinators.

Davidson believes the sub-lethal affects, together with other factors, played a role in this year’s heavy winter losses for the Ontario honeybee industry. While final numbers have yet to be tabulated, he said the industry may lose 35 percent of its colonies with losses as high as 80 percent in some areas.

He said over-wintering colony losses averaged 17 percent in the province, despite the presence of the varroa mite, in the two decades before the widespread introduction of neonicotinoid seed treatments in Ontario. Since 2007, over-wintering losses have been much higher, he added.

“We cannot change the weather, we cannot change the varroa mite, but hopefully we can do something about the neonicotinoids.”

Davidson puts his own over-wintering losses at 30 percent. He said the colonies can be replaced by splitting healthy hives and buying bees, but it involves a lot of work and greatly increases the risk of losing honey production.

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