Beekeepers worry about foliar sprays if neonics banned

Given recent attention to potential bee harm from neonicotinoids, one could assume beekeepers would be thrilled that Health Canada is banning the use of the insecticides, which has been linked to bee deaths and pollinator decline.

Landen Stronks, a beekeeper from Iron Springs, Alta., is definitely not thrilled.

Stronks and other Alberta beekeepers are worried about what happens if and when neonicotinoids are phased out.

“We are quite concerned … because that technology (neonicotinoid seed treatments), when used properly … has managed the risk of exposure (to bees) and its provided risk mitigation to the grower,” Stronks said.

In mid-August, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency proposed to ban all outdoor uses of clothianidin and thiamethoxam, made by Bayer and Syngenta, because of an unacceptable risk to aquatic insects. They are applied to almost all the corn and canola seed in Canada and a portion of soybean acres.

Stronks, vice-president of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission, said the organization is working on a response to the Health Canada decision on neonics. Many beekeepers are worried about the consequences of a phase-out because farmers who produce canola and other crops are going to use insecticides to control pests.

“Growers will need to use something…. Our biggest fear is going to go back to a foliar spray,” Stronks said, noting that foliar sprays are more hazardous for bees.

“It always goes back to managing the risk of exposure. That’s the biggest thing. Neonics seem to be a technology that managed that risk.”

Apiarists in Ontario are also worried about the proposed ban, but for a different reason.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association believes Health Canada’s neonicotinoid ban should happen tomorrow.

“The phase-out period of three to five years makes no sense. If a product is deemed harmful, why would we not stop using it immediately?” the OBA said in a statement.

“Ontario beekeepers’ colonies continue to suffer (from) exposure to the widespread use of neonics on field crops as seed treatments and foliar sprays.”

At first glance, it seems odd that beekeepers in Ontario believe neonics are destroying bee colonies and western Canadian beekeepers support the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments.

But for most of the last five years, Ontario beekeepers have clanged alarm bells about the dangers of neonics and prairie honey producers have shrugged their shoulders.

Stronks lives in Alberta, so he admittedly doesn’t know what it’s like to keep bees in Ontario.

Still, he does wonder about the disparity of opinion.

“It’s been spun (in the media) that you get rid of neonics and all of our problems in the world will be fixed,” he said.

“There’s a bigger push from Eastern Canada than West to say we have a real issue with neonics…. It seems like there are more special interest groups that are jumping onboard … out there.”

On his farm, Stronks keeps leafcutter bees and honeybees, which mostly forage on canola.

“We participate in research every year (where) scientists monitor our hives to let us know if we have any kind of level of anything that’s detrimental to our hives,” he said.

Stronks and the scientists haven’t detected any ill effects from neonics applied to canola seeds.

“It’s not our biggest issue,” he said. “If they’re used according to the instructions, the label directions, there’s a level of comfort (with neonics).”

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