European neonic ban cut canola yields: study

European governments faced significant public pressure to ban neonicotinoids because of concerns over the effects on bees, such as this demonstration in front of the European Parliament in Brussels in 2013.  |  REUTERS/Eric Vidal photo

Yield losses ranged from less than one percent to more than 20 percent, depending on the degree of insect pressure

The European Union’s ban on neonicotinoids has been a costly, environmentally dubious and regressive mistake, argues a study conducted for the EU’s farming and agriculture industries.

The author also voices the same perplexity with the EU regulators’ resistance to comparative studies that many Canadian farmers and agriculture people are now expressing about Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

“Pros and cons of applying or not applying a technology need to be assessed in a more balanced and holistic way, and if such a comprehensive assessment results in societal benefits outweighing the costs, then the technology should be applied,” Steffen Noleppa, managing director of HFFA Research, a Berlin-based European agricultural economics think-tank, wrote in the 2017 report Banning neonicotinoids in the European Union.

The study, which analyzed and synthesized dozens of studies on the ban on European canola production, was funded by Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta and supported by Europe’s pesticide and seed industries, as well as the biggest European farmer organizations.

What Noleppa found wasn’t pretty:

  • European Union canola yields fell by four percent because of the ban.
  • Farmers replaced neonic seed treatments with insecticide spraying on many of their acres.
  • EU canola production fell by about 912,000 tonnes per year, worth about $530 million.
  • Total annual losses to the EU were $777 million.

Noleppa found a range of impacts within the 13 clusters of agronomic studies. For example, yield losses ranged from less than one percent to more than 20 percent, mostly depending on the degree of insect pressure farmers faced in their area.

European canola production differs from that of Western Canada. Most EU farmers grow canola as a winter crop with different insect impacts because of the interaction of seeding dates and bug populations.

As a result, the EU is not an exact facsimile for the prairie canola production zone.

However, many of the fears of Canadian farmers are already being suffered by European growers, the study shows.

Pests are hitting canola crops much harder, and farmers are spending more money and killing more species by switching to spraying.

Machinery is being used more heavily, and land in other places with weaker environmental regulation, such as the former Soviet Union, is being used to replace the EU’s lost production, causing more than 1.2 million acres of unfarmed land to be brought into production.

Quality damage is greater, with more small and lower-oil seeds.

Noleppa concludes his analysis by highlighting the need for regulators to judge chemicals by their relative impact compared to the alternatives farmers will turn to if they have those chemicals taken away from them.

“By developing a sophisticated and standardized science-driven methodology on how to analyze the various benefits and costs of agricultural technologies,” writes Noleppa, it would “enable respective stakeholders to properly accentuate and also guide pending and certainly upcoming very complex decision-making processes as regards the use of agricultural technologies on a ‘stand-by’ (basis).”

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