What Is Next for Neonics? - PulsePoint
December 17, 2018
With a looming proposed phase-out of all uses of neonicotinoid seed treatments, farmers are looking to maintain access, but also looking for alternatives
by Lyndsey Smith
There has been significant effort put in on behalf of pulse growers to maintain access to key insecticide classes currently under review by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). The pulse industry has fought hard for a positive outcome and an extension on the
consultation period following re-evaluation of the registration of neonicotinoid products — imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam.
The industry feels that there is more data to consider in support of a science-based, thorough risk assessment of these products, and it wants the opportunity to provide more data, such as water monitoring data. As it stands, these actives are headed for a three- to five-year phase out in Canada, a decision that could have devastating impacts on pulse growers’ ability to protect their crops.
The PMRA is proposing the phase-out based on what it has determined to be an unacceptable risk to aquatic insects. Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG), alongside Pulse Canada and Alberta Pulse Growers (APG), and the entire Canadian pulse industry value chain want and
respect a robust, science-based pesticide regulatory process, but are concerned that the proposed decision on neonics did not consider the best available data in its decision, including the lack of alternative options to control many insects, the economic implications for growers, and mitigation strategies that could be used to reduce the risk of runoff into waterways.
For example, the PMRA chose not to consider specific Prairie water monitoring data, stating that the areas sampled had been under “unusually dry” conditions for three years. The pulse industry submits that water monitoring data should be representative of Prairie neonic use patterns, soil types, and water movement — dry conditions exist in some regions of the Prairies every year, so this data should be considered in the re-evaluation of neonics.
SPG, Pulse Canada, and APG have been working closely with other grower groups in the industry’s submission to PMRA’s consultation process.
Nevin Rosaasen, Policy and Program Specialist with APG, has been at the forefront of this submission, and reiterates that pulse growers want to use protection products safely. He stresses that soil, wetlands, and water are where farmers derive their livelihood — it is absolutely
critical that farmers use products that are deemed safe for use for both the humans that live on and near farms, and also the insects and animals that share the environment.
“Producers want to know if there is a risk,” Rosaasen says, and that means that measured risk needs to include actual data from the Prairie ecosystem, data that would reflect actual in-field use patterns, and soil and water conditions.
Limited To No Pesticide Alternatives
Maintaining access to neonics is most dire for peas, dry beans, chickpeas, and, in some cases, soybeans, and lentils.
Chickpeas and lentils would be without any available products for protection against wireworm. For dry beans, there are currently no alternatives to neonics for wireworm and corn root borer protection, nor are there alternatives for seed corn maggot protection in soybeans. While representative of fewer acres, all of these pests do their damage below-ground and there are no alternatives for control.
“One of the largest issues, however, is with pea leaf weevil,” says Sherrilyn Phelps, Agronomy Manager for SPG. “With this insect the adults feed above-ground so there are foliar options available. However the foliar options are not as effective at protecting yield as the seed treatments. This is because it is the root and nodule feeding by the larvae (young that hatch from the eggs laid by the adults) that impact the yield of the crop by reducing the plant’s ability to fix nitrogen.”
Not only does this have a devastating impact on yield, but the solution is to apply nitrogen fertilizer. Having to fertilize a pulse crop with nitrogen eliminates one of the major environmental benefits of including pulses in rotation.
The impact would be substantial, Rosaasen says, as 2.5 to 3 million acres of land will require nitrogen fertilizer that could have been derived from nature, all because of losing access to neonics.
Integrated Pest Management
The pulse industry is one that already employs integrated pest management, using field- and region-specific monitoring and risk assessment, before deploying an insecticide seed treatment.
Insecticides are the line of defence, and not applied prophylactically in pulse crops. They are used only after field-level risk assessments, which consider beneficial insects, pollinators, and predators. What is more, the Prairie Pest Monitoring Network offers pest surveys and input from provincial and independent agronomists to ensure that farmers are well-informed on impending threats, or when a pest is not likely to be a concern in their area.
Phelps says these products are used where it is most effective, with the least impact on non-target or beneficial insects. “Applying product to seed means that the product is there to protect the seed and seedling from predators,” she says, while minimizing the impact on other insects.
Carefully considering when to use seed treatments is one aspect of integrated pest management, but cultural controls can also prove useful in the fight against insect pests. If neonics are phased out, the pests do not go away, so farmers are going to be dependent on these other methods to protect their crops.
There are several Prairie research projects underway to both evaluate the effectiveness of cultural controls against neonic-targeted pests, and also practices that could steward the use of these products, should PMRA consider maintaining access.
The pulse industry is hopeful that a Prairie-based, replicated scientific trial looking at the impact of vegetative buffer strips to reduce neonic movement to waterways may be considered in the PMRA re-evaluation. An Eastern Canadian research project into this work found vegetative strips were not effective, however.
There is also significant effort underway to evaluate the use of lure or trap crops for pea leaf weevil, an insect that actually prefers faba beans to peas. Researchers are also looking at using a yellow mustard plow-down crop to mitigate larval feeding on pea roots.
Some of this research is looking at how farmers can best use neonics and/or foliar insecticides for targeted pests, and some is for a “what-if” scenario of losing access to this group of insecticides.
Whatever the decision, farmers may have to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing pesticide access landscape.
What Products Are Affected?
You likely know neonicotinoid products by their trade name, but the active ingredients currently under review and possible phase-out include imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam.
According to Sherrilyn Phelps, pulse and soybean growers may be using these products as Stress Shield® 600, Admire® SPT, Alias® 240 SC, Trilex® EverGol® Shield (which contain imidacloprid), and Cruiser® 5FS, CruiserMaxx® Vibrance® Beans, CruiserMaxx®
Vibrance® Pulses (which contain thiamethoxam).
Phelps says that these products are not just valuable tools — they are, in some cases, the only insecticide tools available for specific pests and crops. In the case of pea leaf weevil and wireworm, neonicotinoid seed treatments may be the only registered option for suppression or control, depending on the crop, or may be the most effective at protecting the plant.