This is the year the Ontario government hopes to virtually eliminate the use of neonicotinoid-treated crops and at the same time halt the loss of valuable pollinators.
The new Pollinator Health Action Plan is designed to help keep the province's agricultural sector sustainable and productive and support a healthy environment by better protecting pollinators.
Pollination by bees, butterflies and other insects enables crops and other plants to grow, providing over one-third of the produce consumed in Ontario and contributing $992 million annually to the province's economy.
In 2015, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to protect bees and other pollinators through new rules to reduce the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds by 80 per cent by 2017.
The new regulatory requirements created a new class of pesticides – Class 12 – for corn and soybean seeds treated with the following neonicotinoid insecticides: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin.
This new class of pesticides applies to corn seed grown for grain or silage and soybean seed.
Corn seed and soybean seed treated only with fungicide are not classified as Class 12 pesticides under the regulation.
The rules are meant to ensure that neonicotinoid-treated seeds are used “only when there is a demonstrated pest problem.”
The action plan restores and protects one million acres of pollinator habitat across the province, supports new pollinator health research, collect more data to better monitor managed honey bee colonies and wild pollinators, and to track neonicotinoid levels in the environment. The plan builds on the province's ongoing work to protect pollinators, including providing production insurance for beekeepers and reducing the use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds in the agricultural industry.
It also supports the work being done by Ontario farmers to protect the environment, including pollinators, through on-farm Environmental Plan Projects.
Alarm bells were sounded when honey production in the province dropped by 32.6% in Ontario between 2012 and 2013, twice the national average.
The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association notes that exposure to neonics aggravates other problems such as varroa mites, viruses and loss of habitat.
“Despite their best efforts, beekeepers cannot manage neonicotinoid usage and exposure,” the OBA says.
“By compromising the bees’ immune system, bees are more vulnerable to viruses and find it more difficult to fight off varroa, by reducing their navigation skills, neonicotinoids affect the bees’ capacity to forage and communicate forage opportunities to other bees and by reducing the availability of a diversity of uncontaminated plants, neonicotinoids compromise nutrition.”
The association states: “Bee health issues cannot be addressed in isolation from the impact of these pesticides, which is why we believe that suspending the use of these chemicals is central to any strategy to address the survival of honey bees.”
Increased acreage of corn crop
Although neonicotinoids are approved for use on many crops in Ontario, corn represents the most concentrated use.
In 2004, the number of acres of grain corn in Ontario was 1.7 million acres.
By 2012, this was up to 2.3 million acres, an increase of 34 per cent, despite the fact that total cropland acreage has stayed the same over this period.
As well, soybean crops, which use neonicotinoids significantly, have grown to 2.7 million acres.
Neonicotinoid pesticides accumulate in the soil, increasing the intensification. Even untreated plants may take up residues of neonicotinoids still present in the soil from previous applications.
Without pollinators, much of the food we eat and the fields of flowers and trees that we enjoy would not exist.
Pollination plays an important function in the environment by contributing to the diversity of plants and flowers. Many crops such as apples, cherries, peaches, plums, cucumbers, asparagus, squash, pumpkins and melons rely on pollinators. Certain field crops either rely on pollination or benefit from pollination in terms of yield. The ecological value of pollination includes food and shelter for wildlife and people, fuel and biomass, temperature moderation and the production of oxygen.