Stop creating friction over neonicotinoids

Since the announcement of Ontario’s new pesticide regulations, Ontario beekeepers have been the object of a misinformation campaign from the agricultural chemical industry and their proxies.

The Grain Farmers of Ontario, in a letter to members, threatened to use pesticides more harmful to bees and encouraged farmers to seek legal advice before allowing beekeepers to place their hives on their land.

For many years, and in some cases generations, farmers and their local beekeepers have been good neighbours. Beekeepers place their hives on farmland and the farmer is usually rewarded with a good supply of honey in return for his hospitality.

There is no good reason to allow the pesticide lobby to create friction between farmers and beekeepers.

Those industries and their proxy farm groups that have profited from the overuse of neonicotinoids may have forgotten that beekeepers are farmers too.

While Health Canada connected neonicotinoid treatments on corn and soybeans to bee kills, beekeepers didn’t need government to tell them something bad was happening to their livestock.

Since neonics have been widely used on corn and soybeans, we’ve had to deal with the cost of failing queens, low honey production and too many dead or dwindling hives in the spring, when our hives should be building up in preparation for pollinating fruits and vegetables.

Ontario’s bees have been victims of a situation where farmers are sold pesticide treated seed when they don’t even need it. Today, nearly all corn and 65 percent of the soybeans grown in Ontario are planted with neonicotinoid treated seeds.

According to crop specialists, at least half and maybe as much as 80 percent of these seed treatments offer no benefit to farmers, yet pesticide companies are happy to reap the profits and deny that bees are dying.

All farmers want to be good environmental stewards. Many have done a good job in reducing the spread of toxic dust at planting time. But this dust represents only two percent of the toxicity of the pesticide on treated seeds.

We hope farmers will now return to using pesticides only when they need them. Complying with the new regulations means the adoption of integrated pest management, including surveillance and crop rotation.

We all benefit when we take action to protect bees. IPM is a small price to pay when we consider that our food supply depends on a healthy pollinator population.

Last winter, Ontario beekeepers lost 38 percent of their hives, three times that of other provinces. We’ve had to spend too much time and money building colony numbers back up to meet the demand for pollination services. We urgently need relief from the overuse of systemic pesticides on 4.2 million acres of corn and soy.

We support Ontario’s goal of reducing the acreage of neonicotinoid treated seeds by 80 percent by 2017. If we can get there, we will have room to once again keep bees in southern Ontario where farmers and beekeepers have worked side by side for years.

We believe this is a reasonable position that respects the interests of both beekeepers and grain farmers.

Beekeepers don’t object to the wise use of pesticides. We use them to control mites in our hives. We do, however, object to the overuse of pesticides.

Despite claims to the contrary, no beekeeper wants to be at odds with his neighbour. There’s enough work making a living for beekeepers and farmers. Let’s move past the rhetoric and back to doing what we love to do.

Tibor Szabo is president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association.

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