Project to shed light on pesticides in wetlands

Water samples from wetlands and tributaries, mainly in southern Alberta’s Milk River and South Saskatchewan River basins, will be gathered throughout the  growing season and then analyzed against some of the chemistries that are up for federal re-evaluation within the next five years. | Crop Sector Working Group photo

The Crop Sector Working Group will work with the PMRA to provide more data about how pesticides are applied in Alta.

A $1.5 million water monitoring project in Alberta aims to ensure federal decisions that impact western Canadian farmers are based on accurate science.

“As a farmer, I take great pride in being a steward of the land and that includes our waterways,” Don Shepert, chair of the Crop Sector Working Group, said in a statement.

However, producers are concerned that federal regulators are making broad decisions about pesticides that may not reflect the actual situation in Western Canada, said Shannon Sereda, senior manager of government relations and policy for the Alberta Wheat and Barley commissions.

Due to a lack of data about the use of pesticides in the region and their effect on wetlands, decisions are instead being made based on laboratory modelling derived from practices elsewhere in Canada, she said in an interview.

“And that modelling is very generic and based on the worst-case scenario, and so we saw the need to (fill the) field data gap for Western Canada in how pesticides are applied and how they exist within the environment in relation to the practices that farmers are employing, or that can act as mitigation, to protect the water quality and health of the aquatic environment.”

The Crop Sector Working Group includes the Alberta Barley Commission, Alberta Beekeepers Commission, Alberta Canola, Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, Alberta Seed Growers Association, Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, Alberta Wheat Commission, Alfalfa Seed Commission (Alberta) and Potato Growers of Alberta.

It helped launch the project in collaboration with the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

The three-year project will focus on more than 10 producers involved in different types of agriculture, said Sereda. The majority are located in southern Alberta in the Milk River and South Saskatchewan River basins.

Water samples from nearby wetlands and tributaries will be gathered throughout the growing season, she said. They will be analyzed against some of the chemistries that are up for federal re-evaluation within the next five years, she added.

These include pesticides identified as being among the most critical for different types of growers, she said.

“And then we will analyze how they’re interacting and what stewardship practices are being used, and if there’s areas for improvement; then we’ll be analyzing the wetland management practices and sharing that information more broadly with our members.”

The project includes an educational component to extend the knowledge of best management practices to all growers.

Practices that have the potential to mitigate the movement of pesticides into wetlands or waterways include vegetative buffer strips and spray setbacks, said Sereda.

“It’s our hope that we can provide the data necessary to be able to make accurate decisions about how our products are interacting with the environment in a realistic setting.”

Although the project is being guided by the Crop Sector Working Group, third-party data will be gathered independently by environmental consultants Millennium EMS Solutions Ltd. to be shared with the PMRA, she said.

“And so we are working really closely with the PMRA in the development of our sampling program to be sure that we are able to provide them data that’s usable in their re-evaluation decisions.”

Consumers worried about the effect of pesticides on human health and the environment have promoted movements such as regenerative agriculture and organic farming.

As part of a recent pledge to use only potatoes from regenerative agriculture by 2030, McCain Foods announced that farming practices it considers to be critical include reducing the intensity of chemical use and seeking alternatives.

However, completely eliminating chemicals from agriculture would deprive western Canadian farmers of tools they need, said Sereda.

“If they don’t have access to tools to help them mitigate the risks and pressures of pests and other diseases, then obviously that is going to be critical to their ability to continue to supply high-quality grain and oilseeds to our export markets around the world…,” she said.

“And so we just want to be sure that we can help retain our farmers’ competitiveness and their rights to use these chemistries, the same as exists in other jurisdictions around the world, by ensuring that data is available to show that the use is safe for health and the environment.”

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