The Province of Ontario took an important step towards protecting pollinators from neonicotinoids, a widely-used and controversial class of pesticides. As on July 1, 2015 Corn and soybean seed pre-treated with neonicotinoids were classified as a pesticide, not simply a seed product as they were before. This is important because it brought them under the Ontario Pesticide Act, which imposes strict regulations for their use.
In addition, the Ontario Pesticides Act was amended to specifically reference neonicotinoid treated seeds and classify them as a class 12 pesticide in order to further restrict their use. The Province of Ontario has aimed for an 80 per cent reduction in the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed.
Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. The provincial measures are having an impact. Just a few years ago, nearly 100 per cent of corn seed and 60 per cent of soybean seed sold in Ontario were pre-treated with neonicotinoids. In 2016, 76 per cent of corn seed and 54 per cent of soybean seed sold in the province were treated with neonicotinoids. In addition the total number of acres planted with treated seed declined by 24 per cent from 2014.
For years it was widely believed that neonicotinoids were in part responsible for the decline of pollinator insect populations (wild bees, butterflies and others) and honey bee populations. The relationship was difficult to prove conclusively in the field because pollinators are exposed to a variety of external threats including habitat loss, climate change and many others.
In June, a team from York University published a study of local honey bee populations demonstrating that neonicotinoids negatively impact bee life spans, foraging behaviour, the production of new queen bees and other measures of health.
New regulations under the Ontario Pesticides Act require farmers to demonstrate a need via a pest assessment before they are allowed to purchase class 12 pesticides (i.e. pre-treated corn and soybean seed). In addition, farmers and agricultural advisors are now offered training on how to assess the need for the products.
Our experience in the Credit River watershed is that local farmers were already beginning to scale back on the use of pre-treated seed, reserving it just for trouble spots with a history of crop damage from grubs, chafers and wire worms. Understanding what pests you have and developing a plan to address them that works with the local environment is the key principle of integrated pest management.