Neonic issue continues to rankle Ont. farmers

A split was diverted within the Ontario Federation of Agriculture over the OFA’s talks with government about neonics

WOODSTOCK, Ont. — The Ontario farming community narrowly avoided a further split over the neonicotinoid issue during Grain Farmers of Ontario’s recent semi-annual meeting.

Delegates at the Sept. 15 meeting had an opportunity to drop their membership in the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Instead, they tabled the resolution.

The GFO had refused to participate in earlier negotiations with government and industry to implement regulations intended to reduce neonicotinoid corn and soybean treatment by 80 percent by 2017. Members say the plan is unworkable.

The OFA remained in the loop, which the GFO leadership said was a betrayal of loyalties and logic.

“Ultimately, it was better to table something like that then to have a straight-up yes or no vote,” said GFO chair Mark Brock.

Reporters attending the meeting were asked to leave the room before delegates discussed the resolution.

Brock later acknowledged the split in the farming community over the issue.

“It’s naïve to think, no matter what farm organization you’re talking about, that you have 100 percent support for any policy,” he said.

Neonicotinoids had been used on almost all of Ontario’s corn crop until farmers were given the option to pre-order their seed without the treatment a year ago. Much of the soybeans planted in Ontario are also treated.

OFA president Don McCabe said his organization supports the GFO position, but it was better to be part of the discussion.

“If you’re not behind the doors, you’re on the table and if you’re on the table you’re likely to get carved,” he said.

The OFA represents the province’s grain and oilseed and beekeeper sectors.

Brock said the GFO felt blindsided when the provincial announced late last year that the restrictions would be implemented. The group had anticipated more discussion and consideration of its Pollinator Health Blueprint, which proposed a more graduated response to the issue.

He said the GFO maybe should have been more proactive in how seed treatments are marketed. Having more options in choosing to use or not to use the technology is an issue, he added.

“I think we need more choice. I don’t know if we needed choice in the beginning, but we do need it now.”

Neonicotinoids came to the attention of Ontario’s farming community in the wake of a substantial bee kill during spring seeding in 2012. Many members of the beekeeping community now see the chemicals as a major issue for their industry, and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has concluded there’s reason for concern.

Measures were introduced last year to reduce the level of neonicotinoid-laden dust that is emitted from pneumatic planters.

The GFO has often quoted statistics showing an 80 percent reduction in bee kill incidents at planting time in Ontario, but troubles for Ontario’s beekeeping industry continue. Symptoms similar to those at planting have been reported at other times of the year, and there’s growing evidence that the insecticides may affect pollinators at a sub-lethal level.

Brock fears that other agricultural technologies, such as the use of phosphorus and genetic modification, will be unfairly targeted in the future.

“Everyone understands this is the most serious issue this organization has ever faced.… It’s an issue around our right to farm,” he said.

“I get a little nervous around this discussion about social licenses because it sounds like you will need a card with your picture on it to be allowed to farm.”

The GFO has taken legal actions to delay the implementation of the regulations. One argument simply calls for a delay, while the other says the regulations fail to meet the “absurdity test,” that their chances of being successful implemented are remote.

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