This Post Should be About Thresholds, But No One Will Answer my Questions

Seedling corn touched by frost

It’s not often that I can’t find the answers I need. After all, growing crops and sharing information about growing crops is the part of this job I love the most (hello, total agronomy geek up in here!). I’m always willing to dig deep to get the answers farmers need.

So it’s difficult for me to write this post…because I’ve failed. I’ve failed to amass the answers farmers need to prepare for the soon-to-be-in-force regulations regarding neonicotinoid use here in Ontario. I’ve failed to sum up what farmers should be scouting for and recording now. I’ve failed to pass on information regarding economic thresholds for specific insect pests, where to look for them, the damage they do, important life cycle details, the economic losses incurred and the possible control measures to take now or for next season.

Would you like to know why I’ve failed? It’s not from a lack of trying, asking questions, waiting patiently, making phone calls, or waiting for answers — because I’ve done all that. And it’s not because insect life cycle information, damage patterns and controls don’t exist — they do — but asking these questions in the context of impending neonic restrictions results in being bounced between two ministries (OMAFRA and MOECC, of course), or just plain silence.

I’ve failed because your ministry of agriculture can’t (or won’t) speak to me freely, and the ministry of environment (those talented agronomists!) don’t have the answers I need because “regulations haven’t been finalized.” Yeah, I know, but time marches on, Minister Murray, and farmers will need information from THIS year in order to make decisions for next.

Acronyms of Note
EBR – Environmental Bill of Rights
MOECC – Ministry of
the Environment
and Climate Change
OMAFRA – Ontario
Ministry of Agriculture,
Food and Rural Affairs
OPAC – Ontario Pesticide
Advisory Committee
PMRA – Pest Management Regulatory Agency

And Premier Kathleen Wynne says our prime minister muzzles scientists? Tsk, tsk, Wynne — I’m not sure if that makes you the pot or the kettle, but I’m happy with whichever you choose.

I can’t tell you about economic thresholds, because the established ones based on non-political agendas no longer stand up to the would-be regs. But I can tell you a few interesting things I’ve learned in my recent head-meet-wall interactions with this government.

I can tell you that Ontario’s farmers are already being put at a disadvantage in relation to their Canadian counterparts, even without new neonic regulations. How so? Your Ministry of Environment took a FOUR MONTH break in moving any new active ingredients to the Environmental Bill of Rights public registry (EBR) — a required Ontario rubber stamp added AFTER the PMRA has already approved products.

Four months. As many as 15 new products sat in limbo ahead of this new growing season. Seven new products have since been added (after much internal pressure, I’m told), but these are products that Ontario farmers COULD have used this season. Now they will receive approvals either a month late or 11 months early. You can check out the list for yourself, by searching “pesticide” here.

Why the delay? A source tells me the internal reason given was MOECC was “too busy” with the pollinator regs to move the Ontario Pesticide Advisory Committee’s recommendations to the EBR. Worst case scenario the MOECC is really out to get pesticide use in agriculture; best case scenario they’re incompetent.

That’s reassuring.

I can also tell you that my questions to OMAFRA’s communication department get passed to MOECC. My questions to MOECC get half answers; a publicly-invited request for an interview from Glen Murray himself (via Twitter) resulted in an email communication with his communications staffer who has told me there will be no interview, because OMAFRA answered my questions (no, they didn’t).

MOECC did provide the update on the EBR postings, and have answered questions regarding protocols for appointments to OPAC itself. A solid source has told me that appointments are inconsistent — some are put through rigorous vetting, but not all, but I’ll dig into that more.

I can also tell you that these new regs are really a ban, but not in the way you may have expected. One assessment suggests the regulation will cost roughly $660 million to administer. The cost to farmers directly? $24 million. (Download the CropLife report).

Farmers, I ask you to look over the regs and tally up a per-acre cost for the scouting required (because you’re going to have to hire it out). That number alone — just the scouting — makes these regs a de-facto ban. It’s quite elegant, really. MOECC has written the rules so that farmers themselves will simply elect not to use neonics — ta da! Mischief managed. (Assuming that it means farmers won’t use any alternative pesticide, because that’s totally what’s going to happen, right? Minister Murray has clearly never met an insect pest before, but given that he was once mayor of mosquito-laden Winnipeg, I find that hard to believe).

Here’s where it shakes out for me — this entire neonicotinoid fiasco could have been (and maybe still could be?) completely avoided if — and it’s a big if — the powers that be were actually using farming practices, sound science, regulatory impact assessments and more.

With proper pest assessments and widely-shared information, farmers should be able to reduce use quite effectively where it makes economic sense. But that’s the key here — if farmers actually had the information and support they needed, and if regs took the timing of the growing season, insect life cycles, and the logistics of planting into consideration (under the proposed regs, farmers will have to decide in late April on what seed to order…um, that doesn’t work), this would all go so much differently.

But that makes one huge assumption, and that’s that this is really about reducing neonic use alone. That doesn’t seem to be the case, does it?

I’m sorry I’ve failed you, farmers. Or, put another way, I’m sorry this government has failed to handle this neonicotinoid file with any sort of respect for farming and agriculture. I’m sorry your ag minister has nothing to do with agriculture, it seems, and I’m sorry that minister Glen Murray won’t agree to that promised interview. But I promise to keep at it — we deserve these answers.


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