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Neonic replacement not popular with farmers or beekeepers

They’re too expensive, ineffective and still harmful to bees, to cite just some of the concerns expressed

A proposed replacement for a key neonicotinoid pesticide is proving unpopular with everyone — including farmers and beekeepers.

Farmers adopted neonic pesticides because they were safer and didn’t damage the environment as older pesticides did. With one of the three used in Canada being phased out, the search for replacements is on.

Mark Brock, chairman of Grain Farmers of Ontario, told the Commons agriculture committee that replacement for imidacloprid is far more expensive and less effective.

“There are no alternatives in the marketplace or in the technology pipeline that provide the same level of protection and safety,” he said.

“Last year, there was an introduction of a similar product into the marketplace, but it’s not available for soybeans, nor does it cover the same array of insects that the three neonics do.”

Brock also said it’s being sold at four times the cost of the neonic seed treatment, even though it provides less protection.

“We have seen some Ontario farmers transition to this product, but we do not have enough years of experience to know what its weaknesses are and what it will be effective against,” Brock said.

Jim Coneybeare, president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, told the MPs seed dealers report that DuPont’s Lumivia seed treatment will likely replace as much as 75 per cent of neonics on corn in Ontario this planting season. While the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency approved, he said its active ingredient “negatively affects the behaviour of bees.”

He went on to say increased use of integrated pest management would allow only the targeted use of pesticides.

“The current practice of the overuse of pesticides is destructive to our environment and benefits only the ag chem industry,” he said.

OBA wants the immediate phase-out of all neonics “and the careful screening of new systemic pesticides.”

Last month, Health Canada reported that since the introduction of new planting practices for corn and soybeans in 2014, the number of bee death incidents have remained well below the high levels of 2012 and 2013. The number of bee death incidents related to sprayed pesticides also dropped during 2016.

However, beekeepers report incidents of strange behaviour in bee colonies in the aftermath of corn and soybean planting, the report notes.

“It remains unclear if these later-season effects are a result of exposure to low levels of neonicotinoids in the hives or other factors that affect bee health such as pests and pathogens; habitat loss and food supply or hive management. Health Canada is examining the information collected in an attempt to answer these questions,” the report read.

The fate of the two other neonics will be decided after Canada, the U.S. EPA and the state of California complete studies on the impact of the seed treatments.

Brock said that seed treatments are an important tool for both environmental and sustainable practices. “Many grain and oilseed producers have adopted no-till systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the farm,” he said. “Many of us also plant cover crops that improve soil health and reduce the run-off of phosphorus into the Great Lakes and other tributaries.

“These types of farm practices would not be possible without tools like neonic seed treatments. Cover crops and no till results in increased insect populations that flourish in the undisturbed soil. The seed treatment allows farmers to protect each individual plant from these insects that grow in that environment. If not for seed treatments, many farmers would be less likely to plant cover crops or practise no till because their crops could not withstand the insect damage.”

He noted a study by the Conference Board of Canada showed the cost of forgoing neonic seed treatments would be $600 million annually to corn and soybean farmers in Ontario alone.

“It is important that our farmer-members have a tool box of technology to choose from, not only to deal with pest and disease pressures that we face, but to also remain competitive with international markets who have access to these products.” Neonics are still allowed in the U.S.

He praised Agriculture Canada’s neonic forum, which has enabled farmer groups to discuss the pesticide with federal officials and researchers.

“We are hopeful that it will result in a national protocol for environmental monitoring and risk mitigation opportunities that can be adopted by farmers,” he said.

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