Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 3 - Evidence - Meeting of January 30, 2014
OTTAWA, Thursday, January 30, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
8:04 a.m. to study the importance of bees and bee health in the production of
honey, food and seed in Canada (topic: use of pesticides like neonicotinoids in
agriculture and what is done to prevent pollinators' exposure).
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. My name is Percy Mockler, senator from
New Brunswick and chair of the committee. At this time, I would like to ask each
senator to introduce themselves, and I will ask Senator Mercer, our deputy chair
Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Merchant: Good morning. I'm Pana Merchant from Saskatchewan.
Senator Tardif: Good morning. My name is Claudette Tardif, and I am
Senator Robichaud: Good morning. I am Fernand Robichaud, from
Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais, from Quebec.
Senator McIntyre: Paul E. McIntyre, from New Brunswick.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton, Ontario.
(French follows — Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais. . .)
Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais, from Quebec.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth, Manitoba.
The Chair: Good morning to the witnesses. This morning, the committee
is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the
production of honey, food and seed in Canada.
The committee has been given the mandate to study the importance of bees in
pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop
production and honey production in Canada —
— the current state of native pollinators, leaf cutter bees and honeybees in
Canada; the factors affecting honeybee health, including disease, parasites and
pesticides in Canada and globally; and to form strategies for and make
recommendations to stakeholders, governments, producers and industry to ensure
This morning, honourable senators, we have two panels. The first is composed
of John Cowan, Vice President, Strategic Development, Grain Farmers of Ontario;
and Arden Schneckenburger, Director, Beef Farmers of Ontario.
Witnesses, thank you for accepting our invitation to appear. I would like to
take this opportunity to once again apologize on behalf of the committee for not
being able to hear from you in December of last year because of our
I would now invite the witnesses to make their presentations, which will be
followed by a question and answer session. I have been informed by the clerk
that Mr. Cowan will be the first presenter, followed by Mr. Schneckenburger.
Following your presentations, we will have questions from the senators.
Mr. Cowan, you have the floor.
John Cowan, Vice-President, Strategic Development, Grain Farmers of
Ontario: Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak to this important
issue for agriculture. I represent approximately 28,000 grain producers in the
province of Ontario. We represent the corn, soybean and wheat producers in
The grains and oilseed industry is Ontario's largest rural employer, and
we're proud to say that an overwhelming majority of our farms operate with an
environmental farm plan. No one cares more about a balanced ecosystem than
farmers. We are first and foremost stewards of the land and the surrounding
environment. Our farms are not only our asset but also our responsibility, in
most cases; farmers intend to pass their assets on to future generations of
their families, so it's very important that they take care of that environment.
The issues facing honeybees are of great concern to us and every one of our
members. Not only are beekeepers part of our agricultural community in Ontario
but bees play an important role in our ecosystem.
We care about a sustainable future for agriculture that includes responsible
practices for both crops and the health of pollinators, and we feel that
collaboration between grain farmers, beekeepers, industry and the government is
the best path to a solution for all stakeholders. Grain Farmers of Ontario is
working diligently on this issue and has been working on it since it was first
brought to our attention in the spring of 2012.
We support a science-based solution. We're implementing more best management
practices this year, including the use of a new fluency agent — which I will
mention in greater detail — that will keep the dust down during planting, and we
are pilot-testing deflectors on pneumatic air planting equipment. Many farmers
took the initiative to plant their crops at night, when the bees are in their
hives. Communication between beekeepers and farmers is highly encouraged and
cooperation is key as we go forward.
Within the past year and a half, the Sierra Club has become involved on this
topic, and it fits well with their agenda. They have nothing to lose.
It's important that those of us who are stakeholders and have a great deal at
risk work collaboratively and support our regulators as they hold firm to
science. We have one of the most trusted regulatory bodies in the world in
Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, PMRA, which makes decisions
based on risk.
You may have read a fair bit about the European Union and the steps that they
take. I'd like to point out that the decisions in the EU are based on hazard.
Risk is a product of both hazard and exposure. As either the hazard or the
exposure changes, so too does the level of risk. For example, a hammer is a
hazard to your thumb, but as long as the hammer is lying on the table, it is not
a risk. As soon as you pick the hammer up over your hand, it poses a risk.
It's important that we continue to support a science-based regulatory system
based on risk. Agriculture is a business of balance, managing risk and working
together to find solutions. Working on bee health is an important, complex
issue, and we want to do our part.
I know you have had presentations on honeybees from the Canadian Honey
Council, so I will focus my comments today.
The threat of damage from harmful insects is a common risk that needs to be
managed for all of us in agriculture — beekeepers, cash crops like grains and
oilseeds, and horticulture crops. Risk of insect damage is mitigated with the
tools and technology we have and that are regulated by Health Canada's Pest
Management Regulatory Agency. Without access to these tools to manage insects,
farm families will suffer losses.
What level of loss has not been studied in Canada at great length? A very
recent report from the EU suggests that the impact of a loss of access to
neonicotinoid seed treatments would result in damage to EU wealth as much as 4.5
billion euros, and in the long run EU farms will face a significant increase in
pest pressure on crops without this technology to manage pests. They will go to
other technologies. In general, those are technologies we had in the past, and
in general they're not as safe as the neonicotinoids we currently use on seed
We need to know the Canadian version of this analysis, so we've asked the
Conference Board of Canada to work on an economic impact analysis for Canada.
The study is not yet complete, but we have seen some of the preliminary data
that shows that farming without access to seed treatment technology would have a
significant impact on farm profit margins, especially those for small and medium
While profit margins for Ontario grain farm businesses have been very good in
the past five years, they have a tradition of being quite lean. Twelve per cent
is the mean profit margin, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Loss of
yield or additional costs for managing insects can be significant when
juxtaposed to margins of this size, especially for those smaller to medium-sized
farm businesses. Resulting economic impacts may have a trickle-down impact on
other government programs.
Canada is not a low-cost producer, and global competition is a reality for
farmers. Any restrictions or ban on seed treatment technology without an
equivalent replacement would put Ontario farmers at a competitive disadvantage
globally, and any restrictions exclusively on Ontario would make us
uncompetitive in domestic markets.
We need a level playing field to run our farm businesses. Common solutions
can be found to avoid these losses. Beekeepers need a healthy brood to make
honey, and grain farmers need to produce a healthy crop.
Today grain farmers, provincial and federal government officials, beekeepers,
seed dealers, pesticide manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and academics are
working in a variety of ways to find solutions. Honeybee health working groups
have been formed and some money has been allocated to figure out solutions to
the issues facing honeybees. Farmers have adopted best management practices to
reduce dust exposure risk. Planter manufacturers are working on long-term
solutions for dust reduction in the planters they produce. Improvements in seed
treatment coatings are being worked on, pilots for installing deflectors on
planters have been initiated, and a new dust-reducing fluency agent will be
mandatory in the marketplace in 2014.
A lot has happened in a very short time to figure out some solutions for
reducing risk for seed treatments, but there is a gap in other areas impacting
bee health. We would like to see a national, holistic approach to this very
complex issue of bee health.
That's why we'd like to recommend that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada set
up a task force to look at a national approach for this complex issue.
Agriculture has come together and is working to find solutions. Controlling
insect damage is something all of agriculture must manage. Beekeepers need
products to control mites that spread disease in their brood, and grain farmers
need products to ward off insects under the ground that target roots and seeds,
There is a system of government regulations in place to make sure these
products are safe for humans and safe for the surrounding environment, including
bees. This system is working. Health Canada's real evaluation of neonicotinoids
will look at water, soil and dust exposure risks, and the agency will make a
decision on the use of these seed treatments based on their findings in the
In the recent Notice of Intent from PMRA on seed treatment, we found
ourselves in new territory. We, as farmers, have not traditionally had a
relationship with PMRA to discuss our agricultural practices, and we would like
to recommend that a formal process be set up for farmers and other
non-registrant stakeholders to promote discussion of sustainable agricultural
Reducing risks of unintended exposure is a priority for the Grain Farmers of
Ontario, especially in the hot spots, as is supporting efforts that will get to
the root of what is impacting the honeybee population. Sustainable agriculture
can be achieved through working together on solutions.
I would like to say that in over 35 years in agriculture and farming, I have
never seen so much activity pulled together in such a short period of time to
try and address this significant issue. We all recognize its importance. At the
same time, we don't want to see decisions based on uninformed public input of
people who do not have the full story because, as you know, the press tends to
give the 30-second review, and people make decisions based on that. Everything
we do in agriculture can't be addressed in a 30-second review because it is so
intertwined with what we do. Everything affects the environment.
That's the factory that we work in. We don't have control over our
environment in terms of weather, et cetera, but at the same time we have to deal
with everything that happens.
Going forward, I'm excited at how the industry has come together and is
really working together. I am concerned that public pressure could force us down
a path that would not be the proper path for Ontario grain farmers or farmers in
general or, for that matter, beekeepers. It's such a big issue that my concern
is we'll have a situation where we say, ``Okay, neonicotinoids as a pesticide is
affecting bees, and so we'll ban neonicotinoids and solve the problem.''
Everyone will go, ``We've solved that problem'' and walk away. With what we've
learned over the last two years, the reality is that it's not going to solve the
problem, so we need to look at the big, holistic picture going forward.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Mr. Cowan, thank you.
Mr. Schneckenburger, could you please make your presentation?
Arden Schneckenburger, Director, Beef Farmers of Ontario: Thank you
very much. My name is Arden Schneckenburger. I'm a director with the Beef
Farmers of Ontario and a farmer from just south of Ottawa. I grow crops and have
a beef feedlot.
Beef Farmers of Ontario have about 19,000 members, and the Ontario beef
farmers are major growers and users of corn and soybeans in Ontario.
We appreciate this opportunity to address the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry with regard to neonicotinoids in agriculture and what
farmers can do to prevent pollinator exposure to these neonicotinoids.
Bees are important to all, as my previous presenter said. We are stewards of
the land, farmers, and we are concerned, as everyone else, about the health of
bees and of our industry.
What are we doing? Beef Farmers of Ontario have been addressing this issue
since the beginning of 2013. Our organization has followed and has had input
with other farm groups that participate with a coalition of seed industry,
equipment manufacturers, seed distributers, chemical companies and the Pest
Management Regulatory Agency, PMRA, of Health Canada, to work on best management
practices for the 2014 growing season, while the PMRA continues to review the
use of neonicotinoids in agriculture.
Beef Farmers of Ontario endorses the science-based approach to addressing the
Use of Neonicotinoids in Agriculture review that is under way by the PMRA at
Health Canada. The preliminary report should be out sometime early in 2015. We
expect that science will address all issues of bee health, from poor nutrition,
lack of forage, varroa mites, winter kill and other diseases, as well as what
effect neonicotinoids may have on bee health. Our industry likes the
science-based approach because it looks at all views and what we as farmers can
do to help alleviate the problem.
A little history: Neonicotinoids came into agriculture replacing what we had
used previously, D-L with captan, which is diazinon, lindane and captan. It was
the most commonly used seed insecticide on the market at the time. This product
was removed from the market once it was determined that it had a detrimental
effect on human health. It was replaced by this new product in the late 1990s
and became widely used in the early 2000s in corn and soybean production. The
new product was deemed to be safer to human health than the old product was. We
use these products in corn and soybean production to control many soil-born
insects, such as wire worms, seed corn maggots, European chafers, black cutworms
and leaf beetles. Yield benefits average three or more bushels in most cases but
higher in areas of high insect pressure.
What can farmers do? A major concern in the spring of 2014 to help mitigate
the effects of neonicotinoids is the air- pressure-enhanced planters, which are
the vast majority of planters used today. The neonicotinoids become suspended in
air from the exhaust, which is mixed with talc or graphite. This fugitive
exhaust is under study. Some preliminary work has been done by equipment
manufacturers to remove the talc and graphite from air-enhanced planters for
this year, as it is considered to be a major carrier. While this is still under
scientific review, we, as farmers, will be taking this off the market this
coming year in case it is a problem.
Some of the things farmers can enact for 2014 under best management practices
are: Foremost, farmers can attend winter farm meetings to learn about this issue
and understand what is being asked of them to do in the coming planting year.
Beef Farmers of Ontario have already held 40-plus of our regional meetings this
winter, and this has been a major topic at each one of our meetings; so we're
trying to get the word out there.
Farmers can modify equipment to reduce fugitive dust exhaust by buying or
building deflectors or diffusers. One manufacturer already has a kit available,
and small manufacturers are introducing devices for spring 2014.
As previously mentioned, for 2014 there is a new seed lubricant or fluency
agent that reduces seed dust from the neonicotinoids by 66 per cent. We need the
lubricants for seed flow in the planters because seed is irregular in size and
doesn't flow. Industry has responded rapidly by coming up with an alternative
product that will be used widely this spring.
Farmers have the option of buying seed not treated with neonicotinoids if we
knew we had bee colonies adjacent to some of our fields. On my farm, I have
bought such seed to put on fields that are adjacent.
Another issue is weed control. If we keep the weeds out of our cornfields and
soybean fields prior to planting, there will be no bees in the fields to be
attracted to the neonicotinoids. Best farm management practices by the farmers
will go a long way to help.
Farmers can plant when the wind is blowing away from the hives or in the
evening when the hives are not active as bees stay in their hives at night.
Those are two things that farmers can readily adapt to for fields adjacent to
Beef Farmers of Ontario encourages some of our members to make changes in
spring 2014 while we're waiting for PMRA at Health Canada to complete their
science-based review of neonicotinoids. We're doing our part.
Industry is doing its part to address the issue and to improve health of
pollinators, but until the full body of scientific evidence is available calls
to ban the use of an important treatment would be premature and extremely costly
to our farmers. Field trials conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture
and Food in 2004-05, at the time of these things becoming available in the
market, indicated that an additional 3.3 bushels per acre were gained with the
use of these products. The proactive steps to address the issue through the
development of best management practices by modifications to planting equipment,
new seed lubricants and support of ongoing scientific studies dedicated to
addressing the issue demonstrate that the industry is serious about pollinator
health. Again, we did many of these things within one year of finding out about
this issue. We want to keep this study moving forward.
Senator Mercer: Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here and your
Sometimes we get into technical terms here. We appreciate that you guys are
experts, but we also have people watching us who perhaps don't understand some
of the terminology.
Mr. Schneckenburger, could you describe a deflector and a diffuser in the
context of what we're talking about today?
Mr. Schneckenburger: One of the issues identified is that the
insecticide treatment on the seed can get into the air and be airborne where the
bees come into contact with it. A simple solution to that is to put it where it
is used. A deflector or diffuser on the air exhaust of the corn planter forces
the exhaust down toward the ground so it settles there and is no longer
Senator Mercer: That's a reasonable explanation.
Mr. Cowan and Mr. Schneckenburger both mentioned planting at night. How
prominent is this in Ontario? How do we encourage farmers to do more of their
planting at night while bees are in their hives?
Mr. Cowan: Well, as you can imagine, farming in Ontario in the spring
sometimes becomes a 24-hour-a-day operation. Planting at night is most
effective. If beekeepers communicate with grain farmers to say where their hives
are located, the fields closest to the bees could be planted at night. Many
fields in Ontario don't have bees near them, so that's really not a concern.
Make sure that beekeepers and farmers communicate with each other.
We have proposed to beekeepers that we make an app that shows the location of
their bee colonies and then the farmers could see them. Farmers are pretty good
businessmen, and they've adapted to technology significantly. Most farmers can
take out their handheld phone and call up apps pretty easily — or their tablet
or whatever they're using in the field. That's one thing we're looking at.
Senator Mercer: We're always amazed at how technology has advanced in
agriculture and farming.
I share your concern about the decisions being made without having the full
story. One of the things we're trying to accomplish here is to make sure we have
the full story and hear from farmers.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here this morning. It's a
pleasure to have you here.
Mr. Cowan, can you tell me more about the multi-stakeholder group that was
brought together to address the issue?
Mr. Cowan: Yes. Initially, industry first got together in Ottawa at a
meeting with beekeepers. It was a national group that included manufacturers of
the seed insecticide product itself, farmers, planter manufacturers, beekeepers
and seed industry personnel. That was the initial thing: Industry first came
Then the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food put together a bee health
working group with multiple stakeholders. They included OMAF people, as well as
academics from the University of Guelph. I passed out some papers that show some
of the activities over the last 20 months. As I said, in 35 years I have not
seen so much activity on one problem in terms of the entire industry coming
together to find a solution.
Senator Buth: Do we have that list?
The Chair: We have it only in one of the official languages, but if
there is consensus, I could ask for it to be translated and distributed.
Senator Buth: Yes, I would appreciate that.
We often get groups coming in asking for a national strategy, for more
resources to be put in. You are not the first witness who has come here and told
us that we are working together, so there are some groups beyond just having the
Ontario government involved. It sounds like you have some national participation
Why would we look at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada resources being used
for something when it appears the process is working? It appears to be industry
Mr. Cowan: It was an Ontario issue; it started in Ontario. The reality
is that these seed treatment products are used right across the country. The
focus initially was on corn and soybean in Ontario, and I believe you have
Quebec representatives presenting. Ontario and Quebec were the initial ones.
That said, there are almost 20 million acres of canola in Western Canada that
use the same products. The horticulture industry uses these products. The
breadth of this is significant.
To make a ruling in two jurisdictions — Ontario and Quebec — would not be an
appropriate move. This really has to be an AAFC review, I believe.
Senator Buth: Mr. Schneckenburger, you commented on your personal
situation; you mentioned you had bought non-treated seed this year and that you
were going to be using that in areas where you were close to bees. Beekeepers
move colonies around, so what's the communication like between farmers and
beekeepers in your area? What's your personal experience?
Mr. Schneckenburger: In the past there's been very little
communication, because this wasn't an issue until it came to the forefront in
Europe the last few years. Communication is the onus and is going to be the key
to any successful strategy moving forward.
It's a two-way street. Quite often we don't even know there are bee colonies
beside us. We're hoping with communication programs through this winter that
farmers will know where all the beehives are, and then we can plant accordingly.
On my farm, going at night — now with farms becoming larger in size, you have
no choice but to keep planting longer hours. It's not like we have to do
something new; we just have to target the fields where we know the hives are and
do it at night or when the wind is blowing away. If it's a really windy day and
winds are going toward hives, we don't plant that field at that time; we come
back another time.
There will be hardships, but communication is a two-way street. Beekeepers
tend to put their hives out earlier in the season than they traditionally have,
so maybe they have to cover them up if we say we are going to be doing a big
block of land beside them. Both sides have to compromise and work together.
Senator Tardif: Previous witnesses have told the committee that there
are a host of interconnected factors. One is pesticides and pathogens, and you
have spoken about that. There is also the situation of large-scale monoculture
farming. From what I understand, poor nutrition from monoculture farms can
affect bee health.
This goes right to the heart of agriculture, which is to increase food
production, but it has also had environmental consequences. To what extent can
farmers be encouraged to diversify their crops, is there interest in doing so,
and is that being done?
Mr. Cowan: Monoculture is basically the sides of the fields.
Approximately 2 per cent of the population in Canada is now farming. At the end
of the Second World War, that was about 48 per cent. The concept of monoculture
and ``wouldn't it be nice if we had four-acre fields,'' we would need about 40
percent of the population to go back to being farmers to make it happen. The
reality is that with the machinery today, the size, the industry, I'm not sure
that we're going to significantly change that.
The other thing I'd like to point out is that corn pollen and soybeans are
not the number one food choice of bees. It was news to me, but a study conducted
in Ontario this past year indicated that trees are their number one source of
pollen and nectar — hawthorn trees, willow trees and even maple. It is different
kinds of trees at different times of the year.
As Mr. Schneckenburger mentioned, pneumatic planters are about 70 per cent of
the planters, so 30 per cent of the planters don't exhaust air at all. If we can
change that and get any fugitive material from the seed treatment out of the air
and keep it down on the ground, it won't be on the pollen trees where bees
actually feed. This is significant.
Regarding monoculture, I don't see us going back to five-acre fields; it's
just not possible. I know it's a nice thing to say, but . . . .
Mr. Schneckenburger: Like I said, we farmers are stewards of the land,
so we try to rotate our crops, add cover crops, et cetera.
There are things the bees can use. We are trying to work with the
environment, our soil health, pollinator health, crops, income for farmers — it
is all together. That's why we are still in business as farmers.
We try to rotate new things like that. Like I said, fields are getting
bigger, and that's because we have to keep our cost per unit down. If you call
``monoculture'' as being large fields, that's true. But I think we are not
monoculture; we are rotating and using other crops mixed in.
The future of agriculture depends on all these different things working
Mr. Cowan: In general, we have at least a three-crop rotation. We
don't plant corn on corn the way they might in Indiana or Illinois. The reason
is that they have about four feet of topsoil there and we work with about eight
inches, so we have to treat our land a little differently than they do. We are
well aware of that; farmers are well-educated on soil health.
The other thing is that we have reduced tillage significantly using products
and technology. We have reduced runoff. The reality is that we have reduced our
pesticide use by about 50 per cent over the last 20 years. So in terms of a lot
of the technologies, I think we have made significant strides in terms of
environmental awareness and the environmental impact of our farming methods.
Senator Eaton: I'm glad you both seem to be on top of the pressures to
take away neonicotinoids, because if we look at the oil sands — and they waited
until they were practically done in by public pressure — it was not
science-based. So I'm glad you are very aware.
Where is the pressure you're feeling to do away with neonicotinoids coming
Mr. Cowan: To be very frank, the Sierra Club of Canada is the leader.
The public pressure that they — it's very easy to give a 30-second byte in the
press. The PMRA has received thousands of responses from a form letter they put
on their website. I would say that's probably where most of the opinion comes
from in terms of banning that.
They also point to the EU, which has a two-year moratorium on ``neonics.''
France has had eight years of no neonics, and they still have bee health
problems. I'm not sure that's the single problem as there are a lot of other
issues going on.
Mr. Schneckenburger: Also on that, you are saying that we as an
industry are feeling pressure, but we think it is a positive thing that we are
working together with all the stakeholders in this whole issue to try to come to
terms. It is very positive. I think you will see in the future that agriculture
and maybe all industries in Canada will start to work together to find
Senator Eaton: You both sound very positive about some of the steps
you are taking.
One of our previous witnesses said that in Indiana or Utah they are sowing
corn that does not seem to be affecting the bees. Is it the way they are sowing
the corn? Perhaps, as you were saying, new methods of sowing corn were adopted
that would not create this dust.
Mr. Schneckenburger: Again, it goes back to some of the adaptations
people are putting on their farm machinery now. It's also a multi-faceted thing
in that it's not just the neonics but could be a combination of things. We will
not be sure until the science is done. Is it the varroa mites or the lack of
Senator Eaton: We have heard about all of those things, but it was to
do with large plantations of corn in other areas that weren't affecting the bee
Mr. Schneckenburger: That's why we are saying it may not be just the
neonics. They are not using any different equipment than we are using. The same
equipment manufacturers supply all of us. There are a number of factors, such as
environment, weather and survivability over the winter. All of these things have
an effect. Are the farmers doing anything different? No.
Senator Eaton: Do you run across native bee populations? We were
hearing the other day about native bee populations in the blueberry. I was
wondering whether they weren't hardier.
Mr. Cowan: I kicked a log over and came across a native bee
population. Actually, I don't know about the natives. The honeybee is actually
used as the designed health bee for all of the native populations, so that's the
one we study because we have control.
As to the blueberries, certainly a lot of Ontario honeybees are sent to the
Maritimes for pollination purposes. In the United States, there are honeybees in
Maine that go to California. The honeybee is the one we have studied most.
Senator Eaton: Yes, there are some 800 species out there. I wish you
luck because you are doing lots of interesting things. It will be interesting to
hear what comes out of this and what you are experimenting with.
Senator Merchant: You gave a very positive presentation this morning
and you take a very cooperative approach. I know that you are speaking about
what you do in Ontario. As I said earlier, I come from Saskatchewan and I am not
a farmer, so I don't know enough about farming. You talked about wind, and we
have lots of it over very large open fields, and we have harsh winters. Our
farmers struggle in the spring to plant their crops. It depends on how much snow
we've had and how quickly they can get on the land; and we have a short growing
Do you speak with farmers out West where we have a lot of beekeepers? Perhaps
you can better imagine what they are going through. Do you know whether they
adopt the same practices as you do?
Mr. Schneckenburger: It would be the pattern of bee movement. Farmers
in Ontario tend to plant our crops in a three-week window — corn and soybean
primarily. Out West, it's the same thing. When the no-till fields are barren,
there is still residue from the previous crop but no flowers. Most of the time
they have been pre-sprayed with Roundup or another herbicide to kill the weeds,
which means: no flowers, no bees foraging. Again, it comes back to best
management practices. If you don't have the bees there at that time and they are
in other fields, then you can plant those fields.
Mr. Cowan: In actual point, we have had numerous conversations with
our friends from the West, farmers, manufacturers, et cetera. Most of those were
done through contacts we have developed over the years. That's why we think it
would be important for the federal government to have a type of formal panel to
address issues across the country. They use the same seed insecticide on almost
20 million acres of canola in Western Canada. We have talked to the Canadian
Honey Council and the grower associations out there, but to work more cohesively
we need something from the government to pull it together. Over the years, you
develop relationships and so you make sure you talk to people.
Senator Merchant: When these studies are set up, how long is it before
you get results? You said you started in 2013 to adopt different practices, so
this is all very recent. You indicated that you started using neonics in the
early 2000s and before. How quickly do you hope to have these panels set up and
how quickly would you like them to come back with some results for you?
Mr. Schneckenburger: We are hoping that the federal government,
through PMRA, finishes their study. They started this study several years ago,
before this became a hot-topic issue, in the natural course of reviewing
insecticides. That's why it was started, not because of this bee issue. We are
hoping that their findings will come forward.
Farmers are adopting these technologies and hoping that it will happen
rapidly. That's why we are holding a series of meetings in the hope that the
farmers will adopt. The seed manufacturers have removed talc and graphite from
seed for the air planters and replaced them with a new fluency agent that
reduces the dust by 66 per cent. We're hoping that we can move rapidly in the
industry, as farmers, to adapt these things.
Mr. Cowan: At the same time, our manufacturing plant is outside in a
field that changes drastically from year to year, so different environmental
factors will have an effect. In plant breeding, to develop a variety from
conception to introduction into the market takes eight years. To get a full
understanding of anything in agriculture, it's one way in the lab where there is
a consistent environment, but reactions are different in the field where we
don't have a consistent environment. Everything in agriculture does take time
and continuous study, actually.
Senator Dagenais: I thank our two witnesses. My question is for Mr.
Schneckenburger and it is quite simple.
You participate in various programs aimed at protecting bees. What is most
costly for you? Is it participating in the program, or living with the decline
in the number of bees?
Mr. Schneckenburger: Both are the same. As farmers, we need bees.
They're an integral part of our entire society. As I said, farmers are keepers
and stewards of our land. The cost of going through with this program before we
have alternatives or proof that this is actually a problem could cost someone
like me three to five bushels an acre on a couple thousand acres. That's 10,000
bushels, which is $200,000. It's going to be costly to farmers, not only farms
the size of mine but also the varying sizes of farms.
The cost is important, but we want to have a science-based outcome. We will
live with what science says; we just don't want to live on pseudoscience. We
want the facts to be out there, and then farmers will adapt.
Senator Robichaud: You said that when there are beehives in the fields
next to yours, you use untreated seeds. I believe I understood that you have a
lower crop yield from those seeds of four to five fewer bushels per acre.
Is that really what happens? Do you see a distinctly lower yield when you use
these non-treated seeds?
Mr. Schneckenburger: The studies done in 2004-05 were really the only
studies done at the time when we were replacing a previous product: D-L Plus
Captan. When they were using nothing versus this, this is what they were
finding. It's been used on the vast majority of seeds since then, so there have
to be new studies now if there is that much loss.
But from the studies we have had in the past, the loss would have indicated
from 3 to as high as 16 bushels per acre. No new studies have been done in a
while, but this is what we farmers are basing it on — previous research.
Senator Robichaud: But in your experience of using non-treated seeds,
which you do when you know there are bees in the next field, is it noticeable
when you harvest?
Mr. Schneckenburger: We run all our harvest through yield monitors.
The difficulty is that there are only certain varieties that will be available
without the neonics on them. So are they the most current variety? Would that
have been the variety I would have used by choice in that field? Can I allocate
the lower yield all to the lack of neonics? I can't scientifically say that's
the case. But in my experience, yes, we do get a somewhat lower yield.
Senator Robichaud: When you communicate with the beekeepers and they
tell you that they are in the next field and you use those non-treated seeds,
does it have an effect? Do you communicate with them as if it had an effect on
Mr. Cowan: This topic really only came to light in 2012. Was there
communication previous to that? That depended on the individual farmer and
beekeeper. A concern wasn't recognized until recently, but now that there is a
concern, the goal is to increase communication. As has been pointed out, in some
cases a grain farmer may not realize there is a beehive near his farm, and we
need to change that.
In terms of the yield, as Arden said, the studies we have are almost 10 years
old, so we are encouraging OMAF to go back and do more studies on yield
advantage/disadvantage of what the seed treatments really mean. We are also
trying put that together with an economic study regarding what it really means,
but we don't have recent information on this. We need more study.
Senator Robichaud: That would be a subject we should pay a lot of
attention to because we're just assuming, aren't we, that there's that much
loss, and it might not be the case.
Mr. Schneckenburger: That's why the seed treatments were brought in.
We had D-L before, and with captan now. We did have a lot of yield pressure in
the past, and that's why the products were on the market.
No one has been doing studies, per se. The only time I would have personally
had communication with bee farmers prior to that would have been with organic
farmers. The odd organic farmer would communicate with me, but traditional
farmers did not prior to 2012-13.
Senator Robichaud: Do the traditional farmers that we have now in
Ontario believe there is a concern with bees, or is it just the organic farmers
who are looking at that and pushing for controls or the use of non-treated
Mr. Cowan: I believe it's more than just organics who recognize this
is a problem now. Organic farming accounts for less than 1 per cent of overall
farming. We recognize that we have a concern. It's a general concern with our
environment, and we want to make sure we take care of it. It's not simply an
organic push here.
Senator Buth: Mr. Cowan, you made the comment that this started in
2009, but neonics have been available for quite a few years. What happened in
Mr. Cowan: No, 2012 was the first significant report. That's when it
came to the grain farmers as an organization.
Neonics, in a large way, came on the market in 2003. Obviously we went eight
to nine years before we had it. So what was the change? Again, we need to study
what significantly happened, if we didn't have a problem for eight years and all
a sudden we did. It's the same in the European Union and in the United States.
We have had bee health problems, overall.
We need a bee-healthy environment. Have we removed too many trees? Have we
got the proper queens? Are we feeding the bee broods properly? Beekeepers use
chemicals to control the varroa mite. Are they the right pesticide products?
I could write two pages of questions that need to be addressed here. That's
why if we just say, ``If we ban a pesticide, we've solved the problem,'' there
are the other 42 questions on the two pages that haven't been addressed.
Senator McIntyre: We all understand the importance of bees not only
for honey production but also for the key role they play in both the
agricultural system and the preservation of a healthy ecosystem. Having said
this, and after listening to your presentations, I understand that farmers,
federal and provincial governments, beekeepers, seed dealers, pesticide
manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and academics are all working in a
variety of ways, as you mentioned, Mr. Cowan, to find solutions to this complex
issue of bee health. Could you elaborate further on the relationship between
your group and these various groups and Health Canada's pest agency, better
known as PMRA?
Mr. Cowan: For the last 18 months, I have been a member of the bee
health committee that was put together in Ontario. It brings together virtually
all members of the industry. As we become more mature as an industry, we
recognize that a value chain has to work together and that everybody has to play
a role in it. Everyone has put on their gloves and said, ``We have to get to
work on this issue.'' The cooperation has been significant.
To be frank again, if there has been a fly in the ointment, it is one group
that has said the only solution is banning pesticides and that's it. I know that
their goal is to ban pesticides; it is not bee health. To be frank about it,
that's what I have observed in the last 18 months.
But the industry overall is trying to take a holistic look at the big
picture. Everybody is playing and understanding their role to solve the problem.
Mr. Schneckenburger: An organization like ours talks to people who are
in that coalition. Beef Farmers of Ontario do not sit directly on that, but we
have some input. It is a good-news story of how the industry is trying to
respond to this whole issue. By working together, we can hopefully come up with
Senator McIntyre: Will the regulations imposed on farmers get tougher
and tougher over the years?
Mr. Schneckenburger: As long as the regulations are science-based and
based on facts, then it's a reality that we can live with. We don't want to have
emotion or gut driving it, or not looking at all science to make decisions.
That's what we would be worried most about.
Senator Oh: Does the problem with the use of pesticides and
neonicotinoids have economic impact on the final product we export overseas? A
lot of countries have very high food safety standards. They are very aware of
food safety standards.
Mr. Schneckenburger: That's why we appreciate having an organization
like the PMRA, which tests all our products before they're legal for use by
Ontario farmers. We know that the product we're producing is safe. It's not just
me saying it as a farmer; it's the government saying that the products we are
using are safe. We also have the Ministry of International Trade, et cetera,
trying to encourage other countries that our product is safe so we can move
forward. That's why we're hoping that this is a science-based solution so we can
still have confidence in the products we use to our trading partners.
Senator Oh: What about Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.? Do they
have a similar problem?
Mr. Cowan: Interestingly, neonicotinoids are used extensively in
Australia, which is one of the areas in the world where they don't have a lot of
bee health problems; but the United States has bee health problems. I will say
that in Canada we are ahead in recognizing those problems and taking action
steps to work on those problems.
We worked with a bee health coalition that consisted of individual academics
from Purdue University and Michigan State University. We have had relations with
the United States to look at the overall problem, but I would say that as
farmers we're quite a bit ahead of the United States.
Why they don't have bee health issues in Australia, I'm not sure. That's one
thing I haven't really spent a lot of time on. As I said, Europe certainly has
issues. It is a concern overall.
Senator Oh: Thank you.
Senator Robichaud: I've heard you say many times that information or
whatever you get should be based on science. I would think that would apply to
the ban on pesticide use or anything else.
You said that there is a definite decrease in yield when you don't use
treated seeds and that your figures are 10 years old. Were those numbers
scientifically proven or the product of science-based research, or were those
figures given to you by those who produce coated or treated seeds?
Mr. Schneckenburger: The studies were done by the Ministry of
Agriculture and Food in Ontario.
Senator Robichaud: Are you satisfied that these studies were conducted
properly and that you agree with the results?
Mr. Cowan: I would like to see more studies done, but to get a
registration through PMRA, independent science has to be presented in the
registration body. I'm confident of what was done before, but I would like to
see more updated studies done by a combination of people, OMAF and PMRA. The
industry has to work together to do this.
Senator Robichaud: The studies were done for the yield and on how safe
they were for the environment in general and for humans.
The Chair: Honourable senators, because of the time factor I have a
few questions that I will ask the clerk to send to the witnesses, who may then
reply in writing through the clerk.
I want to be explicit in saying to the witnesses and to the people listening
that the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry will not play the
blame game in the agriculture industry. That's not our mandate. Rather, we have
a mandate to report and make recommendations to the Senate and all stakeholders
in the agriculture industry, and to have a combined strategy to ensure bee
health in Canada. That is our mandate.
I thank the witnesses very much for appearing this morning.
We will now hear from our second panel. From the Manitoba Corn Growers
Association, we welcome Mr. Myron Krahn, President; and Mr. Dennis Thiessen,
We also welcome Mr. William Van Tassel, first vice-president of the
Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec, accompanied by
Mr. Salah Zoghlami, agronomic advisor.
Thank you for having accepted our invitation and for being here this morning.
I am informed by the clerk that the first presenter will be from the Manitoba
Corn Growers Association, Mr. Thiessen, to be followed by Mr. Van Tassel.
Mr. Thiessen, please make your presentation.
Dennis Thiessen, Farmer/Director, Manitoba Corn Growers Association:
My wife and I farm 850 acres in the Steinbach area in southeastern Manitoba.
I am a director for the Manitoba Corn Growers Association and also for the Grain
Growers of Canada board. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak
The Manitoba Corn Growers Association represents over 1,000 corn farmers in
Manitoba. Our members grow more than 400,000 acres of corn in the province. On
our farm, we grow grain corn, canola, soybeans and either barley or wheat. I
feel it is important to stay up-to-date on all best management practices for
growing the crops we have chosen to grow. We follow best management practices
for our corn by using seed treatment on our corn seed to get our corn off to a
healthy start, free of disease and insects. We follow best management practices
for our canola crop by having a local beekeeper place his honeybees on our farm.
His bees pollinate our canola crop and he benefits as well by having a healthy
food stock for his honey production.
In spring 2013, he told me how he had experienced heavy overwintering losses
that were higher than normal. He told me that this was due to the winter being
six weeks longer than usual and his hives having a large infestation of varroa
mites. As a follow-up to this, in the fall of this year he told me that his
hives had fully recovered and that he was looking forward to great production
In further discussions with him, he indicated to me that he found that
neonicotinoids work better and are a safer alternative for his hives than the
products used before. He also spoke about feeding his bees in the hives a soy
product in the early spring to build them up and to keep them from flying at
times, which could be more harmful to them if it is planting time for corn. It
is important to us that we have a vested interest in healthy bees on our farm.
It is my understanding that there have been only four cases of bee kills
reported in Manitoba, and of those only two may be linked to neonicotinoid
damage. I believe you have already heard from the Canadian Honey Council, so you
are aware that this is a very complex issue.
My concern as a farmer is to be competitive with farmers in the U.S. I must
have access to the same production tools that they have. As you know, corn is a
long-season crop and needs every advantage to reach maturity in our climate in
Manitoba. I've used seed treatments on my seed at planting, so that I get a
competitive edge against predators like cutworm and wire worm and, therefore,
produce a healthy plant quickly at the beginning of its life, which then
provides an edge to reach maturity earlier and produce a good yield.
Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has stated in the Notice of
Intent that they think my farming practices are unsustainable, but it is not
clear to me that they fully understand farming practices or which farming
practices they find unsustainable.
Considerable work has been done in past years to develop best management
practices as they relate to the issues around bee health. Our association has
been communicating and will continue to communicate these best management
practices to our members. I would ask that we be given the time to see if these
measures will work. What we need now is a benchmark from PMRA so that we are
able to measure improvement.
We also need a formal process by which we can meet with PMRA to communicate
our sustainable farming practices to them and, if ongoing studies show that
change is needed, to work together to develop those changes. Farmers are willing
to work with PMRA and beekeepers to develop these improvements, but I am
concerned that changes the PMRA might propose may be financially unsustainable
for my farm. We have to work together to develop practices that are good for
farmers and good for bees, because farmers and their crops need bees and bees
need farmers and their crops.
It would be very helpful for farmers to see the data that PMRA has collected
so far so that we can analyze it. It may be as simple as small planter
modifications or improved fluency products, which are being worked on and will
be on the market next spring. My farm would take a large financial hit if I
could no longer use seed treatments to protect my seed, as other alternatives
would be far costlier, less safe to both humans and wildlife and would be less
environmentally friendly as well.
Neonicotinoids were first introduced in the late 1990s because the data
showed that they were much safer for farmers to use and much safer to wildlife
than what was being used at the time. In fact, PMRA did an assessment at the
time. Seed treatments were registered because of their sound science-based
approach, which included a risk/benefit assessment that showed they were a more
environmentally sustainable product. They have been used since that time with
very little discussion about adverse side effects until recently. Therefore, we
find it difficult to understand how it is possible to conclude that neonics are
fully responsible for bee deaths.
Therefore, we would urge your committee to encourage PMRA to complete the
work that they are doing jointly with the EPA to re-evaluate this class of
pesticide and assess its value using sound science. We would also ask that PMRA
be encouraged to work with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and wait for the
results of the bee health value roundtable, which is in the process of being
established. This is important work that takes a larger look at the whole issue
and needs to be allowed to be completed. Only after these studies are completed
we will know more accurately what is happening. The Manitoba Corn Growers
Association will continue to work collaboratively with beekeepers and others to
develop the best plan for moving forward together.
Again, thank you for this opportunity to discuss this important issue, and I
would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
William Van Tassel, First Vice-President, Fédération des producteurs de
cultures commerciales du Québec: Good morning. I am a grain producer from
the Lake Saint-Jean region, in Quebec. Among other things, we grow wheat,
barley, canola, soybean and corn. The Fédération des producteurs de cultures
commerciales du Québec is affiliated with the Union des producteurs agricoles.
We represent 11,000 Quebec producers. The federation has 11 regional syndicates,
since we are in every region where grain is grown. We sit on various committees
and take part in workgroups on the environment, and particularly in the one that
is our concern today, regarding pollinators.
Neonicotinoids belong to a class of insecticides that have been commonly used
in agriculture since the 1990s. Not only are they used in the grain sector, but
also in horticulture. Treating seeds with insecticides reduces damage to seeds
and to seedlings and guarantees a better yield as well as a reduction in energy
use for other measures taken against pests, because we can prevent the loss of
seeds, particularly canola, when they are sprayed with an insecticide.
On the next page, you can see healthy corn roots and on the left, and those
that have been damaged on the right. You can also see that the roots on the
right will not be giving a good yield. In other crops, such as potatoes, there
can be worms which make them unsuitable for consumption and they have to be
I will now move on to what is known about pollinators, bees and other
insects, as well as the neonicotinoids. Pollinators are important in
agricultural production. Pollinator deaths are observed following exposure to a
high concentration of neonicotinoids in dust generated during seeding. That is
the only scientifically documented aspect, and solutions are being developed,
such as lubricants and modified seed drills, especially for corn. Seeding
implements are being modified so that the dust will fall to the ground rather
than spreading through the air.
The projects in Quebec cover two years, but some studies indicate that
neonicotinoids can have a three-year after- effect. That is one of the reasons
why we need longer-term projects. Because if seed treatments act in the ground
over three years, two-year studies could lead to the conclusion that the seed
treatment has no effect.
Studies of the impact of neonicotinoids were initially undertaken after the
discovery of colony collapse disorder. Many factors contribute to CCD: viruses,
mites, hive management, feed, et cetera. Quebec reports mortalities caused by
neonicotinoids to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), but we do not
know what proportion of total mortality these cases represent. Corn and soybeans
are the only crops under scrutiny, but what about other crops? Leaf-cutting bees
are also being affected. I am a canola producer, and even when seeds are treated
with insecticides, the seedlings sometimes die anyway.
The FPCCQ is mindful of bee mortality and has had many discussions with
beekeepers. The federation supported a resolution at the UPA's general congress
last December to intensify efforts to reduce bee mortality. The federation is
part of the provincial pollinator protection committee; the participants are the
Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; beekeepers; the FPCCQ;
Association des marchands de semences du Québec; PMRA; Quebec Ministry of
Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks; UPA; and the Quebec
Public Health Institute. We carry out committee mandates such as publishing PMRA
notices and information regarding the availability of untreated seeds, support
research projects and promote integrated pest management.
Our position on the issues is to continue to raise awareness to reduce the
risks associated with pesticides; encourage producers to successfully complete
current projects (testing and comparison of plots with and without treated
seeds); refer to rigorous, science-based results, which is important; acquire
the knowledge needed to assess the risk to bees and to the industry's economic
Why this position? Changes in practices should be gradual. Agriculture needs
to be competitive, and the grain industry operates in an open market with fierce
competition from trading partners, which means a significant economic impact on
the grain industry in Quebec and Canada.
On the next page, you can see the economic impact and percentage of losses.
The figures are from Ontario because we had no figures for Quebec. We did a
simulation based on those numbers for Quebec, which are on the following page.
We indicated losses of oats, wheat and canola of 50 per cent because canola has
really been affected. There is more involved than the clubroot of crucifers. The
potential losses amount to $336 million annually.
In conclusion, pollinators are important for agriculture. The use of
neonicotinoids is a major issue for the grain industry. More scientific and
agronomic knowledge is needed in order to make the best possible decisions. This
issue is fundamental to agriculture, and government authorities should base
their decisions on science, not the views of lobby groups. Reliable scientific
data is needed to make good decisions. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Van Tassel.
The first question will go to Senator Mercer to be followed by Senator
Maltais from Quebec.
Senator Mercer: Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. They
were both good presentations.
Mr. Thiessen, your description of your discussion with the local beekeeper
was interesting. We've heard testimony from others that one of the things that
could help our beekeepers is the ability for them to travel in the winter to
move their hives to more southerly climates and use them in the United States to
pollinate. Have the beekeepers of Manitoba talked about this? We've heard from
Atlantic Canadians, both producers and processors, that this would be a big
help. Is that an issue in Manitoba?
Mr. Thiessen: From what I'm told, and I can't be absolutely sure on
this, bringing bees across the border has been prohibitive because of diseases
that can be brought across the border from the U.S. As a result, farmers are now
overwintering their own bees, which wasn't the case 15 or 20 years ago. To move
our bees south to overwinter them would be impossible.
There was a question to the previous panel about there not being bee losses
in Australia. I wonder if perhaps they don't have the kind of winter that we
have had. The winter from 2012 to 2013 was six weeks longer than normal. Bees
going into the winter were already stressed by the varroa mites. When you go six
weeks longer, you have a weakened bee. Bee losses probably had more to do with
the varroa mites and an extremely long winter.
Senator Mercer: You encouraged the PMRA to work with Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada and wait for the results of the bee health Value Chain
Roundtable, which is being established. Tell me more about that. Who is
participating in the round table?
Mr. Thiessen: I'm told it will be beekeepers, Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada, PMRA and farmers as well. I'm not sure exactly who's all on
there, but I'm sure those groups are.
Senator Maltais: Welcome, gentlemen. I am happy to welcome you, Mr.
Van Tassel, as you are from an area that borders mine, a very agricultural area
in Quebec where we produce dairy products, grain and blueberries.
We are on the horns of a dilemma. We absolutely have to use fertilizers and
insecticides in order to have a competitive and large enough grain crop. We do
not have a choice. By the same token, we need insecticides that would have less
of a damaging effect on bees, but still effectively fight the organisms that are
responsible in part for the destruction of beehives, let us call them the ``bee
Concerning research, the UPA works quite a bit with the Saint-Hyacinthe
School of Agriculture, Laval University and McGill University. They do a lot of
a field testing with new products that will allow for good grain yields and
reduce the damaging effects on bees.
The rector of Laval University told me not too long ago that there had been
progress and that the UPA does excellent work with Laval University researchers.
I forgot to tell you our region produces the best cheddar in the world: the
Perron de Saint-Félicien.
The Chair: I am sure that there is a question coming.
Senator Maltais: There are not 36 solutions. We just heard that moving
the bees around is not the answer, and that there can be unknown diseases in the
soil. Aside from scientific research, are there any other solutions to solve
Mr. Van Tassel: I do not think so. We have to wait till we have
science-based results. Hearsay is not very conclusive. When we replace a
product, we have to observe what changes. The neonicotinoids were there, but
there used to be another product in corn, DLC, which was harmful. We always have
to analyse the replacement product. We have to wait before we can state that the
results are conclusive.
Salah Zoghlami, Agronomic Advisor, Fédération des producteurs de cultures
commerciales du Québec: Moreover, in science, solutions are based on
practices, and certain changes or adjustments to practices that decrease risk.
We must not forget that many economic or agricultural activities come with a
certain amount or risk. Science helps to choose the best possible practices,
taking into account the inputs, chemical or other, that will be less damaging to
everything in the environment.
Senator Maltais: Is the beehive contamination rate in the Lake
Saint-Jean area approximately the same as in other areas of Quebec?
Mr. Zoghlami: No contamination has been reported in the Lake
Saint-Jean area. It has been observed in Montérégie and the Eastern Townships,
for the most part.
Senator Maltais: That is close to Ontario.
Mr. Zoghlami: No. That is what has been observed. We have to have a
complete picture of mortality in different regions. We are talking about neonics
in corn and soybean only, but in Chaudière-Appalaches and Saguenay-Lake-
Saint-Jean, where there are large bee populations, treated seeds are being used,
but there is no mortality.
We need a more comprehensive picture in order to draw conclusions. We have
asked for these data a few times, but unfortunately we have only received one
figure on mortalities.
Mr. Van Tassel: I have beehives on my farm. You should know that the
beehives go all over Quebec. They are taken to the blueberry fields to begin
with, and then elsewhere. I have some all summer now and this has been the case
for a few years; I talk to beekeepers, and I have never had any problem. I use
the product. I also seed canola, with neonics just next door, and I have not had
any problems with the beehives on my farm.
Senator Tardif: I have a quick question for Mr. Thiessen. In your
presentation, you stated:
What we need now is a benchmark from PMRA so that we are able to measure
Could you elaborate on that? What type of a benchmark are you looking for and
what are your expectations?
Mr. Thiessen: To answer that question, it's difficult for us to
measure how we're doing against what they're looking for unless we know — we
start with a benchmark. Our association has meetings in winter. We speak to our
growers about being careful about when to spray an insecticide, whether on
soybeans or whatever. The risk/benefit is such that when you spray to kill
grasshoppers on soybeans, you might also be killing beneficial insects that will
attack aphids and keep the aphid population down. It is that kind of thing.
There was a fellow farmer who was going to spray his soybean field, and he
did some work with his agronomist. They made a decision not to spray because the
benefits and risks pointed out that it wouldn't be a good idea. We communicate
that at meetings.
In terms of corn, there are so many factors that affect bee deaths, like long
winters and varroa mites. Those are the big ones, but there is also nutrition
and whether the bees are properly acclimatized and prepared for winter. Have
they had good nutrition and water during drought periods? The beekeeper I work
with and the others I have talked to provide water to their bees if there's a
dry period; they can have water at hive and go back out.
There are many factors that affect bee deaths, and we need to get a handle on
what goes to each. At this point, I don't think they really know the total
effects of what each one is.
Senator Tardif: Are you not getting any type of information from PMRA
in regard to some of the factors that you have stated?
Mr. Thiessen: At this point I would say no.
Senator Tardif: You also indicate in your presentation that Health
Canada's PMRA has indicated that they find your farming practices unsustainable.
In what context was that made? I don't quite understand. Is it usual that they
do evaluations like that?
Mr. Thiessen: I have a hard time to answer that. When we wrote this
up, our executive director came across the website where this was stated, and
that is what I'm presenting at this point. We don't know what their thinking is.
I have spoken with more beekeepers than just my local beekeeper. There is a
lot of misinformation. A farmer will rent some land to a dairy farmer who has
been growing alfalfa on that land. That dairy farmer was telling the beekeeper
he was going to switch to corn and grow corn for three years on that land back
to back, which is something I don't usually do. He was worried about the
neonicotinoids staying in the ground and affecting the crops down the road.
We don't know how quickly the neonicotinoids break down. All pesticides break
down in the environment. As they are dispersed, the intensity that can affect
insects diminishes, but as farmers we don't know that information. PMRA does;
maybe others in the agriculture sector know that, but I think there is
misinformation. This issue is so big in the media that even beekeepers are
nervous because they don't have answers, just like we, as farmers, don't have
answers. The bee health committee needs to do the full study and come up with
answers so that both beekeepers and farmers know what we're dealing with.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Van Tassell, did you wish to reply also?
Mr. Van Tassel: Yes. I believe the PMRA is saying that you can't use
the same insecticide year after year because a resistance will develop. As a
farmer, you never use the same insecticide because you have a crop rotation. I
grow five crops, so I have a rotation of five years. I use neonicotinoids two
years out of five. When you have a rotation with other products, normally you
don't have a problem with resistance, but if you use the same product year after
year, you can have resistance. You can't use the same product every year. That's
the reason; it's not sustainable.
Senator Robichaud: You say you rotate five crops and you only use
those for two years. How different is your operation, Mr. Thiessen, from that of
Mr. Van Tassel?
Mr. Thiessen: About 40 per cent of my acres are grain corn, and then I
grow a fair bit of canola and also oilseeds, like soybeans, and then a cereal to
break up the rotation. My rotation is probably a little shorter than his, but I
also use different crops to rotate. It's not just neonicotinoids, but Glyphosate
resistance. I bring in canola and group cereals for a different group chemistry
to break that cycle so we don't develop resistance.
About 15 or 20 years ago I had some group 1 resistance in one of my cereal
fields, and it took me five to ten years to get rid of that. I did get rid of
it, but it was expensive and took considerable effort to overcome that. That's
why rotation is important. Different crops are important.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here this morning.
Mr. Thiessen, you indicated that you grow corn and canola. We have heard from
other witnesses that this has not been an issue on canola but has been an issue
on corn. Of course we've heard about corn seeding equipment. Can you describe
the differences between what you use to seed canola and what you use to seed
corn so that we can understand the differences in the seeding equipment?
Mr. Thiessen: Actually, I hire my neighbour. He has a corn planter. He
plants my corn for me custom. It's a vacuum planter, as has been discussed
With my canola, I seed with an air seeder. The seed goes down the tube, so
there is no exhaust, per se, from canola when you seed canola.
Senator Buth: The main difference, then, would be that in corn
planting there is the exhaust and the dust coming off of the seeds that is
exhausted into the environment, whereas with canola you don't get that exhaust
and it going into the environment.
Mr. Thiessen: Yes.
Senator Buth: Mr. Van Tassel, did you want to comment on this as well?
Mr. Van Tassel: Mine is probably the same thing, and probably Salah
will go on about it. I have ``vacuum'' for my corn and I have an air system also
for my canola. I do see some blue powder on the seed for my canola, but as you
said, you didn't hear problems about the canola. For the corn, there are
possibilities for things that are coming out. You can have a diagram made up
about how to make it so that instead of having the dust go out in the
environment, it goes down in the ground. There are plans made up so farmers can
make changes on their corn planters.
Senator Buth: That's relatively recent, is it?
Mr. Van Tassel: I saw it in 2012 for the first time.
Senator Buth: Mr. Van Tassel, are you working with other provinces?
You presented a model of what's happening within Quebec. We have also heard that
Ontario is working and we've also heard we need to work on a national basis.
What's the situation in Quebec with working with other provinces?
Mr. Van Tassel: Salah will have more about it because he is following
that more than I am. We have a provincial group working on it; we have any
discussions with Ontario. Since we are a farmer group, we talk very much with
the Grain Farmers of Ontario.
Mr. Zoghlami: We have set up contacts with the other provinces, and as
Mr. William just mentioned, particularly with the Grain Farmers of Ontario. On a
regular basis, we discuss the plan, the production of information and
cooperation with partners, such as when we respond to the federal Pest
Management Regulatory Agency or other organizations. We follow the situation
closely, and we exchange information especially on certain pieces of equipment
developed to promote good practices or minimize risks. So we try to work
We have also gotten in touch with Ontario beekeepers who came to the working
group on the protection of pollinators of which I was a member; in short, there
is close communication.
Generally speaking, since this is a national situation this necessarily
involves the federal government as a partner in the whole exercise, and
particularly the PMRA which is our reference for everything involving
regulations and the scientific decisions that must be applied. We always turn
with confidence to the government bodies to help us with the decisions that
should be made by the sector.
Senator McIntyre: Gentlemen, thank you for your presentations.
Mr. Thiessen, I understand that your association is a rather busy bee, for
example, working in the areas of market development, research, promotion and
education. I further understand that it administers several federal programs
related to corn, alfalfa seed, rye grass, pulse crops, sunflowers and honey. Is
your association more involved in promotion, research, education and market
development as opposed to administering several federal programs?
Mr. Thiessen: Our association administers the cash advance programs
for corn and for other crops. We are really ramping up our research on corn and
corn varieties. As you may be aware, both DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto have set
out to increase the corn acres in Western Canada to the tune of 8 million to 10
million acres. It is a lofty goal, but I think they are going that way.
As an association, we are increasingly getting more involved in more research
with other groups, the Grain Farmers of Ontario and the guys from Quebec as
well. So we're doing a lot more research. Last week, we hired an assistant to
work with some of that research. A big part of our budget is the research.
Senator McIntyre: My second question is for the representative of the
Fédération des producteurs de cultures commerciales du Québec.
I understand that your federation was created in 1975, that more than 11
agricultural unions belong to it, and that it represents 10,000 grain producers
from all of the regions of Quebec.
My question is the following: since your federation represents a large number
of grain producers, how do you see the relationship between those producers and
the PMRA, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency? More specifically, how do your
grain producers react to the preventive measures imposed by the PMRA? Do they
take into consideration the interests, the different realities of these
producers and farmers?
Mr. Van Tessel: I am not sure that I can answer that question. Mr.
Zoghlami could perhaps do better.
Senator McIntyre: Can you describe the relationship between the grain
producers and the agency?
Mr. Van Tassel: There are 11,000 grain producers and I do not know if
they all know the PMRA. There are always some producers who are more informed
I cannot speak for all 11,000 producers, but Canada's regulatory system is
respected by the federation, by producers, and throughout the world. And so,
there is respect. The reason Canada's regulatory system has garnered that
respect is because it is based on science, on scientific decisions. So that is
my position regarding the PMRA, as a producer, and it is also that of the
federation, and I think it is also the position of any of the producers who have
had any dealings with it.
Mr. Zoghlami: To complete that answer, as a federation we make it our
business to publish any decision or information issued by the PMRA, in order to
have the information reach as many producers as possible, using the various
means at our disposal, electronic or other.
Of course it is a regulatory agency. We are talking about regulation, and
regulations have to be respected; otherwise, if regulations and laws are not
complied with, nothing is going to work, and since producers are inclined to
respect and apply the regulations, they trust the PMRA. Their opinion is that if
the PMRA recommends something or puts regulations in place, it is not on a whim.
People understand that there is solid documentation that led to the introduction
of the regulation and that guides producers. This brings us back to the fact
that regulations should not be introduced or amended according to the opinions
of a lobby group or some perception of reality. I think that any federal or
regulatory body would lose its credibility if it were to change its practices on
the basis of mere perceptions.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you to our witnesses. My question is for Mr.
Thiessen. Ever since we started hearing testimony on bees, we have heard a lot
about the effects of winter on the life and survival of bees. I would like to
hear what you have to say about spring. Can an early or late spring have an
effect on the survival of the bees?
Mr. Thiessen: The shorter winters will definitely allow bee survival
to be stronger. Bees are out in the fields at planting time. That's when I think
the highest risk is to bees from insecticide. This new fluency agent, reducing
the dust coming off, is going to reduce the risk as well, but if beekeepers can
keep their bees at home in the hives during corn and soybean planting, we can
mitigate that risk. It's a two-way highway. If you're driving on a two-way
highway, you respect the laws and hope the guy coming in the other lane does so
If beekeepers and corn and soybean growers can work together to minimize the
risk to bees, it's best for both of us. Both of us have a vested interest in
bees, and we want them to flourish. We corn farmers also need our crops to get a
good start. We need good, consistent plant population. That's why we use the
neonicotinoids. They're working well for us. They're a preventive thing. We
don't have to use topical sprays, which are far more toxic and do way more
damage to bees than what we're using in seed treatments. So, if we work
together, we can work through this issue.
Senator Robichaud: You are in an area that is not exactly Northern
Quebec, but close to it, and you say that there is less bee mortality in your
region than in other parts of Quebec.
Do you use as many honey-producing beehives in your area as they do elsewhere
in Quebec, as you are in a blueberry-producing area, correct?
Mr. Van Tassel: It is because of the time of year. There are not
enough beehives in Quebec for the Lake Saint-Jean blueberries. Beehives are
brought in from Ontario, but there are not enough because it takes lot of them.
When I am seeding, the beehives are in the blueberry fields. So at that time
of the year there are no beehives on my farm. They are in the blueberry fields
because it is a pollinating period. So I do not really have any problem. Is that
why? I am not a scientific expert, I am a producer. There are no beehives then.
The beehives come back to us around June 20, when the blueberry pollination is
over. There are no seeding problems at that point, because the beehives are
north of the lake.
It is a fact that in my region, in the spring, in the month of May, the
beginning of June, all of Quebec's beehives are there. But blueberry fields are
sandy areas and there are no grain producers nearby.
The Chair: Thank you to our witnesses for being here this morning, and
for having shared their opinions and recommendations with us.
On behalf of the Senate committee, witnesses, thank you for sharing your
opinions and recommendations with the committee.
(The committee adjourned.)