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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 to start.

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 from Alberta.

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 bee health.

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 parliamentary responsibilities.

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 Ontario.

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 treatments.

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 farmers.

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, stifling growth.

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 future.

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 practices.

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 beehives.

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 good presentations.

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 airborne.

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 together.

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 as well.

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 led.

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 together.

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 from, mostly?

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 solutions.

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 forage?

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 populations.

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 season, too.

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 their hives?

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 seeds?

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 2009?

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 a solution.

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, Farmer/Director.


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: Good morning.

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 to you.

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 next year.

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 discarded.

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 viability.

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 blackflies''.

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 this problem?

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 improvement.

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 before.

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 together.

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 than others.

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 as well.

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.)