Neonicotinoids: Despite losing a court decision, farmers still bucking neonics ban

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Ontario’s grain farmers say it will take years before they know the effect a near-ban of a controversial pesticide will have on their crops.

Neonics were on the minds of hundreds of farmers Tuesday at the annual convention in London of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Neonics, a short form for neonicotinoids, are pesticides applied as seed coatings and are widely used in the region’s key crops: corn and soybeans.

Last year, some farmers planted crops not treated with neonics after Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to order a severe cut in their usage because of reports linking the chemical to bee deaths.

Although farmers saw record soybean yields and a decent corn crop in some areas last year, Mark Brock, chairperson of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, said it is far too early to assess whether the neonics restrictions will mean more insect damage and lower yields.

“One year is just a snapshot. We had a great year, but it was weather-related,” said Brock, who farms west of Mitchell.

The group representing 28,000 farmers lost a court battle last year to derail the neonics regulations but then hired BDO Dunwoody to do a three-year audit on the economic effects of the neonics regulations on farmers.

The audit will try to separate weather factors from insect damage that typically occurs early in the growing process, Brock said.

The results could be used in efforts to show that grain growers were damaged by “quick, rash regulations,” he said.

The battle over neonics also has spurred grain growers to launch a major public relations campaign called Good in Every Grain that features video profiles of grain farmers, TV commercials and social media posts.

The grain growers have partnered with Ontario Hockey League to have their message flashed on scoreboards during games.

“It was evident as we went through the neonics issue how detached society has become from farming and what we do on our farms,” Brock said.

Kevin Armstrong, a grain growers director who farms south of Woodstock, said the organization has engaged celebrities such as Chris Soules from the TV reality show The Bachelor to publicize the brand.

“People who wouldn’t normally hear anything about the Grain Farmers of Ontario are suddenly seeing the name.”

With planting season not far away, growers are hoping for a good year with a large winter wheat crop planted last fall off to a good start.

The low Canadian dollar also is helping grain growers who export. They’re optimistic that protectionist trade policies by the Trump administration in the United States won’t target grain imports.

Dave McEachren, a grain growers director who farms near Glencoe, said the protectionist sentiments may even help Ontario growers.

“Countries like Mexico are disgruntled with the U.S. and we could see a shift of our corn exports. We could see more opportunities to market globally.”