SOUTH SIMCOE - Opinions are mixed in the agricultural community about the provincial government’s plans to restrict the use of a pesticide widely believed to be responsible for the recent rise in bee deaths.
Peter Dickey, a fourth generation honey producer and owner of Dickey Bee Honey north of Cookstown, who is also the president of the Huronia Beekeepers Association, supports the province’s proposal to create a licensing system for neonicotinoids.
“We’d much rather see a complete ban obviously but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
Recently, Ontario’s Agricultural Minister Jeff Leal said the province will work towards creating a system to limit the use of the pesticide, which is applied to the seeds of crops like wheat, corn and soybeans to protect them from pest damage.
While the research is ongoing, many studies have blamed the pesticide for the sharp decline in the bee population. Health Canada has also linked the pesticide to the colony collapses.
Normally, honey producers lose up to 15 per cent of their bee population over the winter, but in the last two years, Dickey’s losses have been much higher.
“I had a 45 per cent loss of bees this year and last year lost close to 70 per cent,” he said.
Dickey said this year’s loss works out to about 1,450,000 bees.
Typically he said each colony has about 25,000 bees at the start of the season and 65,000 by the end of the summer.
Dickey said his numbers are recovering better than last year, but he’s not sure how the rest of the season will pan out.
“Now it looks like the bees I have are rebounding nicely now that the planting is all done, but I’m waiting for the next thing to happen in July and August when all the heavy rain comes in and washes all the insecticide to the end of the fields,” he said. “Then the bees go for a drink and they die.”
He said the loss of just one colony can cost a producer thousands of dollars, not just to replace the bees, but also in revenue that can be made to sell bees to other producers or to loan the bees to fruit orchards on pollination contracts.
“The lack of bees to produce a crop is not sustainable,” he said. “We can’t keep buying more bees to make honey, we’re just spinning our wheels and never getting ahead.”
Dickey said everyone should be concerned about this problem since a third of the food we eat relies on pollination.
While honey producers support the restriction, grain farmers think more studies are needed.
Ontario Grain Farmers chair Henry Van Ankum believes it is too early to say for sure that the pesticide is to blame for the bee deaths.
“We were pretty disappointed in that idea,” he said. “I think we need tools to protect our crops from pests and if we are going to be asked to try and be much more selective on how we use those tools we also need to have good diagnostic tools to tell when we need the protection on the seed, and when we may not.”
He wonders why flags are only being raised now when the product has been widely used for several years.
“That’s why it’s a little puzzling that some of these possible effects seem to be showing up now when we’ve been using it for so long,” he said.
He said farmers don’t use the pesticide if they don’t have to.
“Parts of fields are more prone to pests than others, but farmers are very conscious of their bottom line,” he said. “We make our living growing these crops and we certainly don’t want to spend more in inputs than we need to.”
Van Ankum said steps have been taken to limit any possible effects the chemical has on the environment. He said there has been more emphasis on using untreated seeds and planting practices have changed to limit the amount of dust that escapes from the planting units.
“I think it’s a very complex issue and I think what we need is a real hard scientific look to be taken at this,” he said.
Dickey said there is some onus on beekeepers to try to keep their colonies away from areas using the treatment, but said that wouldn’t do much since bees travel great distances to forage.
He said farmers can take further steps like doing crop rotation, but still thinks the restriction is needed.
“Every year the pests move around, so I don’t know how the farmers going to manage that,” he said.
- with files from Torstar