Farmers have a one-season shot this year to limit the effect a controversial pesticide is having on bee health, a leading agriculture researcher says.
“The bottom line is, if we mess this up, we’re going to lose neonics (approval), I’m convinced of that,” said Art Schaafsma of the University of Guelph (Ridgetown campus), who co-led a new Ontario field study of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids.
Beekeepers blame mass bee die-offs in the past two years on neonic coatings used on corn and soybean seeds. But some farm groups say there’s not enough information to prove cause and effect.
It’s become a hot-button issue worldwide and the European Union has banned the use of neonics.
Schaafsma said this will be the pivotal year here and farmers need to be part of the solution.
“The eyes are on us,” he said. “If the (bee mortality) numbers go up on this, like they did in 2013, the Pest Management Review Agency is going to be forced into a corner.”
He challenged farmers at the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association to plant a bag of treated seed and a bag of untreated seed so researchers can expand on a study he and Agriculture Ministry entomologist Tracey Baute have just released.
Meeting with power
Ontario beekeepers, frustrated by what they say is an unabated threat to their livelihoods, will get the face time they’ve requested with Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“We’re looking at our earliest opportunity to meet with them,” likely this month, said Mark Cripps, spokesperson for Wynne, who’s also agriculture minister.
“We’re probably doing more than any province on the bee health file,” he said.
- Millions of honeybee deaths reported in Ontario in 2012 and 2013, most of them coinciding with nearby corn planting.
- Toxicology reports show almost all those bees have some level of neonicotinoid in them, likely from foraging or from drinking contaminated water.
- Environmental groups say the pesticide should be banned as harmful to ecology in general and to bee pollinators specifically.
- Examined nine pairs of Southwestern Ontario cornfields, with nine bee yards nearby, in 2013.
- Dust from pesticide-treated seeds during corn planting coated flowers, flowering trees and soil.
- Poses “serious risk to pollinators, requiring immediate mitigation.”
- Farmers should use neonic-treated seed only where risk of insect damage is high; communicate better with nearby beekeepers when planting; use new machinery to keep neonic dust from reaching soil, air, water, other plants.
- Toxicology studies need to assess both acute and long-term impact on bees.
- Studies need to recognize hives are interdependent organisms, not just a collection of insects. “You can have a hive with a lot of bees in it and not have a healthy hive,” said beekeeper Tibor Szabo.
- Most farmers ordered their seed months ago for the coming year and beekeepers worry it’s too late for most to order uncoated seed.
- Human health depends on the health of pollinators such as bees.
Seed, pesticide firms say
- Neonicotinoids as a seed coating have replaced previous, toxic pesticide treatments and are safe to the environment.
- Western Canadian farmers plant canola seeds treated with neonics and bee deaths there are much lower than in Ontario.
- Any decisions about future use of neonicotinoids should be based on science, not anecdotes or emotion.
- Human health also depends on efficient production of crops such as corn and soybeans.