Do seeds need to be treated with neonicotinoids?
Asagricultural producers get ready to order their seeds for next year’s crop, the Conseil regional de l’environnement de l’Estrie is appealing to farmers to be careful when it comes to corn and soya bean seeds treated with neonicotinoid insecticides. Researcher Madeleine Chagnon is co-author of a meta-analysis of 800 reports has reported that the application of these insecticides contributes to the decline of bee populations and other pollinators, but is also associated with other environmental damage. What’s more, studies have shown that the yield from non-treated seed is not inferior to the yield from the seeds treated with neonicotinoids, even at the economic level.
In Quebec, we have been using neonicotinoids in large scale farming operations since the 1990’s, mostly for corn and soya. They are a class of insecticide that works used on such a large scale (more than 500,000 hectares in Quebec), these ‘systemic’ insecticides are known as contributing to the decline of the bee populations. Persistent in the environment (up to three years in the soil), their impact is not limited to the targeted plants; the neonicotinoids also affect land and water invertebrates fish and amphibians that live near fields are also exposed continually to large doses of insecticide in their water or food supply. The impact of neonicotinoids can be hard to prove: because it is an insecticide that is long-lasting and attacks the immune system, it can be complicated to make a link between the insecticide and illnesses. Even if we have found elevated cases of Parkinson’s disease in people who have had high exposure to the insecticide in Japan, more study on vertebrates is needed.
Studies made in several locations around the world, such as the Monteregie in Quebec, Ontario and the United States show no significant difference in the crop yields of corn and soya whether the seed has been treated or not treated. Researchers and agronomists are proposing that farmers use more targeted methods instead of the application of ‘wall-to-wall’ insecticides to protect their fields.
“The main problem with these insecticides is their wall-to wall application,” commented Sylvain Laroche, counsellor with the Club agro-environnemental de l’Estrie. “Farmers must be better informed on the environmental impacts and on the yields of seeds treated with neonicotinoids,” said Isabelle Guay of the Coop des Cantons. Two years ago, two hybrid varieties of non-treated corn seed was available at the Coop; now there are about twenty varieties of non-treated corn seed. UPA’s position The UPA is also worried about the risks associated with the abusive use of neonicotinoids. In a resolution voted on last December, the UPA called for prudence and making farmers aware of the impacts of their seed choices. The UPA is also asking that the analysis results of research on the risks associated with neonicotinoids are quickly provided to farm producers, and that they get financial support with the fieldwork needed to find and target problem insects, thus avoiding the widespread use of those insecticides. The organization is also asking that the Association des marchands de semences du Quebec prioritizes its non-treated seeds over the treated seeds, and not the opposite.