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Pearce: GFO goes informative rather than inflammatory

Protest over planned seed treatment policy at deputy premier's London office relatively quiet, proactive but assertive

GFO members display a banner at an MPP's office in London, Ont. in 2015. (Ralph Pearce photo)

It’s not that farmers in Ontario aren’t frustrated and angry concerning legislation aimed at curbing the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments. They are.

However, during a protest Friday in front of Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews’ riding office in London, executives with the Grain Farmers of Ontario and roughly 35 farmers took a more proactive approach, hoping to create a better understanding of farming practices and the need for seed treatments.

Mark Brock, chair of GFO and a Perth County farmer, was the chief spokesperson at the morning rally, held on the riding office’s front lawn. Instead of expressing only frustration on the part of crop producers, he chose to highlight certain gaps in the neonic-bee health issue — including the urban-rural divide.

“I think the big thing we brought forward was the concerns that we have as growers about this really urban-focused agenda around seed treatments, and this very quick timeline that they’re pushing forward with,” said Brock.

“You see reports coming out of the U.S. that they’re going to take a 10-year period to do some of this work that our government is trying to do in seven months. I know they’ve said it’s a phased limitation, but I think a lot of us feel the value of the seed treatments are going to be affected by this legislation effective July 1.”

Parkhill-area farmer and GFO director Joe Thomson was also on hand and addressed Matthews in her office, trying to provide a first-hand perspective on farming, noting Matthews is an urbanite and likely unfamiliar with today’s farm management practices.

Thomson said he believes Matthews, the MPP for London North Centre, did listen to his concerns, acknowledging there is an opportunity for some bridge-building.

In spite of the timing of the season, where some farmers were reseeding due to frost damage earlier in the week, and spraying already-emerged crops, Brock said he was satisfied with the showing. The proactive approach was exactly what he said he hoped for, as well.

Some individuals and organizations have advocated a more militant approach. Brock said he hoped more can be done using a calmer approach, though he agreed frustrations are beginning to mount.

In its current form, the Ontario government’s legislation stipulates that as of July 1, farmers will be restricted in the use of neonic seed treatments to just 50 per cent of their corn and soybean acres.

Any higher concentration will require an assessment of fields by an independent “assessor,” such as a certified crop advisor.

However, no official protocols exist on training these independent CCAs, and most crop producers and grower organizations are of the opinion that there aren’t enough of these trained specialists to make assessments possible in time for the 2016 planting season.

“The groundswell we’re getting from our membership is so much frustration and anger, and it is starting to show up,” Brock said, but added that’s all the more reason why cooler heads must prevail.

“A lot of producers are realizing now that we’ve gone through the planting season and have in their heads how this regulation is going to apply and the logistics involved, and they just realize how unworkable it is in its current form.”

GFO is encouraging farmers and the public to take to Twitter to show support, including the hashtags #onpoli and #ontag, typically used to denote tweets relating to provincial politics and agriculture respectively.

Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont. Follow him on Twitter at @arpee_AG.

GFO members display their banner at MPP Deb Matthews' riding office in London, Ont. (Ralph Pearce photo)

GFO members display their banner at MPP Deb Matthews’ riding office in London, Ont. (Ralph Pearce photo)

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