Have wireworms? Show me proof, Ontario government tells farmers wanting to use neonicotinoids

Ontario farmers have an additional task this fall on top of the usual harvest crunch: placing traps in fields to assess soil pests.

An Ontario judge decided last month that provincial regulations restricting the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments would remain in place.

Consequently, Ontario producers are digging holes in their fields this fall to prove they have wireworms.

Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Mark Brock said farmers can potentially use neonicotinoid seed treatments on 100 percent of their corn and soybean acres if they can demonstrate that soil pests are a threat.

“As a farmer, I can do a self assessment under the protocol,” said Brock,

“We have to dig a hole in the ground and put either corn or flour in the hole to attract the wireworm.”

The Ontario government introduced regulations this spring to reduce the amount of neonicotinoids applied to corn and soybeans by 80 percent. Neonicotinoids have been linked to a decline in bee colony health, and some scientists believe the insecticides are hazardous to the broader ecosystem.

With the court ruling Ontario producers are facing the reality of the regulations.

Brock said growers have three options:

1)    Plant corn and soybean seed that doesn’t have a coating of neonics.

2)    Plant seed treated with neonics on 50 percent of their acres in 2016.

3)    Conduct a pest assessment to prove they have wireworms and need a neonic.

Brock has chosen option 3.

He dug approximately five holes per 100 acres and monitored the traps for wireworms. He then filled out the necessary paperwork and is waiting for provincial response.

“I’ve already ordered my seed for next year, my corn seed anyway,” he said.

“(We made) the assumption that we have the pest and ordered accordingly, so we can get treated seed…. We’ll adjust in the next three or four weeks, depending on the result of our (applications).”

Brock said autumn isn’t an ideal time of year to detect wireworms because the soil is cold and dry and the pests are not active.

Complicating matters, the flour and corn attracts other critters.

“Skunks and raccoons seem to enjoy the traps,” Brock said.

“They come along at night and dig them up.”

He said most producers are planning to use neonics next year, despite the difficulties.

“We’ve always felt the need for these products in certain situations,” he said.

“Growers are going through the hoops of doing the pest assessments or ordering at least 50 percent (neonic treated seed) because they do value the product.”

Grain Farmers of Ontario challenged the neonic regulations in late June, asking the court for a stay or to delay implementation until May.

Chief executive officer Barry Senft said the legal action was unprecedented.

“The decision to seek legal action against the Government of Ontario was not easy … but it is necessary, and the outcome of our multi-step legal strategy will be critical to the livelihood of grain farmers across the province,” Senft said in June.

The organization has said the regulations are not supported by science because bee colony numbers are on the rise in Ontario. It accused the province of playing politics with neonics to gain favour with urban voters.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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