Pearce: “Dust-off” in pesticides has farmers’ attention

Widespread concern about bees, and the possible connection to the use of dry lubricants and neonicotinoid insecticides, has been generating a number of responses in the agricultural community.

For the past 18 months, media reports have singled out agriculture in general, and seed treatments and the use of insecticides in particular, as a possible cause of colony collapse and so-called “bee kills.”

Late last month, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience proposed a joint action plan in Europe, as well as new formulations for coating treated seed. There is also a study out of the University of Guelph researching a new seed lubricant — and a suggestion that equipment manufacturers may be drawn into the search for deflector kits.

These recent developments have been highlighted during the season-opening breakfast meetings hosted by Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food/Ministry of Rural Affairs (MAF/MRA) and certified crop advisors (CCAs).

Last Tuesday (April 9), the subject of bees and the use of neonicotinoids was discussed, including mentions of growers acquiring deflector technology. According to the minutes from that meeting, equipment makers apparently have no interest in researching the use of deflector kits.

Such kits are available from a company in Quebec (reportedly acquiring them from France), it was noted. But the primary concern with the kits is that there are warranty issues if the manufacturers were to add them.

In those same minutes, it was announced Tracey Baute, a field crops entomologist with MAF/MRA, and Art Schaafsma of the University of Guelph-Ridgetown College are leading a field-scale study on dust management and new polymer technology in an effort to reduce “dust-off.” And they’re looking for co-operators in Essex, Lambton, Middlesex and Elgin counties, as well as the municipality of Chatham-Kent.

The same study was mentioned during the MAF/MRA-CCA meeting on Tuesday (April 16) near Exeter. During that meeting, Case IH, Deere and White (Agco) were named as the manufacturers that had expressed no interest in researching deflector kits. At the time, ministry staff and one of the CCAs suggested the more farmers contacted the manufacturers directly about the kits, the more likely that the three companies named might consider making the kits available.

Steve Johns, a Syngenta representative at the Tuesday meeting, distributed two documents: “Top Five FAQ on Bees and Bee Health,” and “Protecting Bee Pollinators on the Farm,” both available at the company’s BeeHealth.ca website.

As much as there’s concern about why bees seem to be dying, Johns expressed frustration, given that neonicotinoids have been around for years, and that perhaps 2012’s excessively dry conditions presented something of a “perfect storm” for development of this serious problem.

“Ultimately, we don’t want to lose this chemistry, so we need to find a way to treat the seed and get it into the ground,” said Johns, adding that Syngenta is working on new coatings and talcs/lubricants, as well as configuration changes on planters, such as redirecting air flow. “We need to find the right answer.”

Peter Johnson, an Ontario provincial cereals specialist, added he’s spoken with mechanics from John Deere who say the No. 1 problem they’re called out to deal with, in-season, is planters jammed with too much talc.

In the past, Johnson said, there’s been an attitude of “one glove (of talc) is good, so two must be better.” He concluded that’s not the message companies, advisers and extension personnel need to share.

A Health Canada study is also available online, titled “Pollinator Protection: Reducing Risk from Treated Seed” (with thanks to CCA Chad Anderson of Brighton, Ont., for providing the link).

— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont.

Related stories:
Corn growers, beekeepers await insecticide review, March 22, 2013
EU Commission wants curbs on pesticides to protect bees, Jan. 31, 2013

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Ralph Pearce

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