Neonics ban: Now what?

A variety of chemicals can be used as a foliar spray to control flea beetles. 

More spraying.

Higher costs.

Lower yields.

Fewer acres.

Worse insect control.

More fuel burned.

Heavier equipment use.

That’s what farmers will endure if the Pest Management Regulatory Agency pushes forward with its recommendation to ban neonicotinoids from canola production, say many farmers and canola experts.

“Undoubtedly, there will be yield losses,” said Alberta farmer John Mayko, an experienced canola agronomist.

“Basically, farmers will have to scout their fields every day or every other day.”

If farmers catch sight of flea beetle outbreaks, they’ll have to get spraying fast.

“We’re going to be killing off all kinds of beneficials (helpful insects).”

The PMRA is recommending that the two main neonics used in canola seed treatments be banned because they might hurt aquatic bugs, such as midges and mayflies. Those insects are important food sources for wild birds and fish.

Farm and canola organizations are objecting to PMRA’s proposals, which have entered a 90-day comment period, but farmers are already thinking out the scenarios they might be living in three to five years if the ban goes ahead.

“I guess we go back to what we did in the ’70s ,” said Chuck Fossay, a Starbuck, Man., farmer, who is president of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association.

“The big thing is going to be doing a lot more field scouting and probably going out there and spraying just to be safe.”

What is most frustrating for many farmers is the possibility that they will be forced to return to cruder practices that they had hoped to leave behind. The use of the neonic thiamethoxam as a seed treatment has allowed farmers to avoid many insecticide sprays.

That has seen much less insecticide used per acre and has allowed most beneficial insects within canola fields to survive, encouraging the development of integrated pest management.

Now, farmers might find crops subject to flea beetles and have to make quick decisions on whether to spray.

“We used to do foliar applications, which was exposing the environment much more, and non-target species,” said Rick White, chief executive officer of the Canadian Canola Growers Association.

“In the old days that’s all we had. Now we thought we had a better system.”

But today’s neonic sniper bullets might be replaced by old-school insecticide carpet bombing because some neonic residue can end up in streams, rivers and lakes in the right conditions.

While many farmers and canola experts are pessimistic about insect control without neonic seed treatments, Manitoba Agriculture pest specialist John Gavloski isn’t sure farmers will necessarily have to return to widescale insecticide spraying.

Often combined with thiamethoxam is a diamide product, with Lumiderm being a most common form. That chemical also controls flea beetles and might prove to be more effective than many now assume.

“There will be trade offs,” said Gavloski.

“There will be benefits and could be losses.”

Diamides have good persistence, tend to be slower to get working and offer good flea beetle and wireworm protection, Gavloski said.

Because they don’t work as fast as water soluble neonics, farmers can’t rely upon the excellent early-seeding protection neonics offer.

“It does take away the option of seeding early,” said Gavloski.

However, if farmers seed into warm soils and get a crop up quickly, a diamide treatment could prove sufficient against flea beetles and good against wire worms.

That might lead to less insecticide spraying than many assume, Gavloski said.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he said about predictions that farmers will have to spray more.

Mayko said one reality will be unavoidable if the neonics are banned: more farmer anxiety.

“There’s no way you can check every field every day,” said Mayko.

Without the protection of neonics like thiamethoxam, canola crops will be exposed and only increased farmer vigilance will offer some mitigation.

If not neonics, then what?

A variety of chemicals can be used as a foliar spray to control flea beetles.

  • Decis — It’s a contact-only product that kills most insects and is highly toxic to bees. It is a poison with high mammalian toxicity as well as for some aquatic organisms and is a severe eye irritant.
  • Mako or UP Clyde — The chemical is cypermethrin. It is a pyrethroid and acts on contact. It has moderate acute mammalian toxicity, is very toxic to most insects, including bees, and is very toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. It is harmful if absorbed through skin and fatal if swallowed.
  • Pounce or Ambush — This is a permethrin chemical and is either consumed by insects from leaves or works from spray contact. There is low mammal toxicity, but is very toxic to bees, other insects and fish.
  • Vliam Express – It is a pyrethroid with a diamide as well. It works on contact or through ingestion of sprayed leaf material. It remains in plant tissues over time and is highly toxic to bees and other insects. It is highly toxic to fish and water organisms and poisonous to mammals.
  • Sevin — A carbamate insecticide, it works on contact or ingestion. It has residual effects. There is moderate acute mammalian toxicity and is highly toxic to insects, including bees.
  • Malathion — It is an organophosphate that has low mammalian toxicity but is highly toxic to other insects, including bees, and is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.
  • Matador or Silencer — A lambda-cyhalothrin, it is a pyrethroid insecticide that works on contact or through ingestion of plant material. It has low mammal toxicity but is very toxic to bees and other insects. Bees and some beneficial insects are repelled by the product.

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