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Between The Rows

Bees with jobs, post-election direction, Canada’s ‘super ministry’

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Can bees be employed to deliver crop protection products? Ashish Malik, CEO of Bee Vectoring Technology, explains its award-winning system that delivers biological pest and disease control to crops; D.C. Fraser, Glacier FarmMedia Ottawa correspondent, offers his take on the results of this week’s federal election and how much – if anything – has changed for Canada’s ag sector; and Kim McConnell with the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute spells out why the federal agriculture and food portfolio needs to be elevated to a front bench ministry. Hosted by Gord Gilmour.

Read the full transcript of this episode

Gord Gilmour: [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to another edition of Between The Rows. The podcast of Glacier Farm Media. I’m your host this week, Gord Gilmour. In this episode, we’ll be talking about how the federal election might affect agriculture,

Speaker2: [00:00:20] And we’re certainly going to see some fresh faces on the agricultural committee

Speaker1: [00:00:24] And an agriculture leader gives the incoming ag minister some straight talk

Speaker3: [00:00:29] Muscle into the table. Get your use your elbows to get in if you need to.

Gord Gilmour: [00:00:39] And don’t forget, you can now find us on YouTube. Just search Between The Rows podcast. Again, make sure to search Between The Rows podcast. You’ll find the latest episodes plus her archive, and we’re planning to use this YouTube space to post resources on our stories and even photos and videos. We’re also hoping it’s going to be another chance for you to contact us so you can let us know what you think about BTR or tell us about a story we should be taking a look at. So again, head over to YouTube and search up Between The Rows podcast. In the meantime, we’ll be back right after this word from our sponsor.

Commercial: [00:01:21] Thanks for calling the crop guru. Yeah, I’m wondering about increasing yield and return with optimal P and K applications. O reply hazy. Try again. Ok, I also need a nutrient removal calculator. Cannot predict now. Hold on. Are you using a magic eight ball? Signs point to yes.

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Gord Gilmour: [00:01:51] We’re back.

Gord Gilmour: [00:01:53] We’ve all heard the tale of the busy bee. But could you put a bee to work for you? One company thinks so Bee Vecotoring Technology is taking Canadian research and applying it to the problem of preventing infections in crops. But instead of using a sprayer, they’re using bees to very precisely place crop protection products. Bee Vector Technology CEO Ashish Malik joins Between The Rows today from California.

Gord Gilmour: [00:02:31] Ashish, thank you very much for joining us today.

Ashish Malik: [00:02:34] Good morning, Gord. I’m very happy to be here myself.

Gord Gilmour: [00:02:37] So where did this idea come from?

Ashish Malik: [00:02:40] Yeah, it’s a good question. So the use of bees as vectors to deliver plant protection products has been studied in academia for actually quite some time going back, even a couple of decades. The idea to build a commercial system that would work with commercial agriculture was something that we pioneered, the technology, the ideas came actually out of the University of Guelph in Ontario, some late nineties early, two thousands by a couple of professors who are since retired who were looking at on the one side, what are the kinds of products the plant pathology side that could be best suited for bee vectoring? And then, of course, the bee experts that that worked at the universities that kind of put their heads together and came up with the idea of bee vectoring.

Gord Gilmour: [00:03:29] So now can you just give me a sort of a simplified explanation of how it works?

Ashish Malik: [00:03:34] So we work with commercial beehives so we don’t work with the bees that are wild you find in nature. So we work with the ones that farmers will either rent for the season to help pollinate their crops or or buy in the case of bumblebees for greenhouse production primarily. So we work with those we call the managed beehives, and we have dispensers that work together hand in hand with the bees themselves that get placed in those hives and as the bees leave the hives to forage because of course, the flower represents a nutritional source for them, right? So they visit the flower to bring nutrition back to the colony, to feed the colony. During that process, they as they exit the hives, they walk across our dispensers and to pick up in powder form our biological control agent, which then in a sense, we are cargos as the bees fly to the flower when they visit the flower. That’s when the microbial product falls off their bodies, colonize the plant tissue and gives the crop protection properties that the farmers are looking for.

Gord Gilmour: [00:04:40] Well, now we know that bees of all types are very busy, hardworking insects. But can you tell us a little bit about just how effective they are at placing crop protection products?

Ashish Malik: [00:04:51] Yeah, they’re very effective. So you think about the benefit of our system, the bees are going to visit the flower alone, right? They’re not going to go wander off. That’s their food source. So that’s their kind of mission, if you will. And so when you compare bee vectoring to traditional spraying, when when you’re spraying a crop, you’re typically getting only five percent of the active ingredient onto the flower. And in our case, you’re getting 100 percent of what the bees are carrying delivered to the flower. So it’s a very targeted application. It’s a very efficient application, and the bees are wonderful because they keep visiting the same the flowers on that same field day and day out during the entire bloom period. So, you know, Farmer may be spraying once or twice during the blue period, which means that any any flowers that might open after a bloom before the next bloom are actually left exposed and vulnerable to a pathogen versus the bees who are constantly visiting any new flower that opens up. That gets, you know, potentially a colony of the biological control agent colonising that that freshly opened flower. So very effective, very efficient, extremely targeted, in fact. You know, we coined the phrase that this is precision natural agriculture, right? So it’s our natural precision agriculture, I should say. So, very effective.

Gord Gilmour: [00:06:18] And now I think I’d be safe to say that most of our listeners are going to be a lot more familiar with doing this a mechanical way. I imagine there must be a lot of other benefits, though, in terms of its environmental footprint and so on. Could you run us through some of those?

Ashish Malik: [00:06:33] Yeah. You know, so I mean, I already talked a little bit about the effectiveness and the fact that you’re in a very precise way getting the biological to where the source of the infection would be through the flower. So very efficient in that regard, but in terms of environmental benefits. So you know, we are, you know, it’s a natural system, so we don’t use any any fossil fuels compared to heavy machinery that could be used or even, you know, crop dusters airplanes that are still used for delivering traditional methods of spraying. So no fossil fuels is a huge advantage. We also don’t use any water. So, for example, I live in California, where we are dealing with droughts every year, three years in a row, farmers have been rationing the amount of water that’s available to them. So this eliminates all of the use of water for delivering crop protection so they can apply whatever small quantities of water that they have for the nutritional needs of the crop itself. So that’s another big advantage. And, you know, biologicals because they have, you know, a less less of an impact on on soil and things like that. It’s better also from a regenerative agriculture perspective in terms of maintaining a clean soil environment.

Gord Gilmour: [00:07:57] So now where would we go and see this technology in action today?

Ashish Malik: [00:08:02] So we’re selling a product today that is registered as a biological fungicide using these bees in the United States. So right now, the only place that we have that regulatory approval is in the U.S. So we’re selling it quite widely across the U.S., but we’ve started the process to expand geographically. Obviously, Canada will be submitting to the Health Canada and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the PMA, over this winter. We’re expanding into Mexico. We’ve expansions, plants already started in Europe and also we’re looking at South America. We’re looking to go into Peru. So a very soon you’ll see us expand our geographic footprint. But today it’s primarily used on the berry crops in the U.S. But even in the U.S., we’re looking to expand a number of crops that we could we could sell the system onto.

Gord Gilmour: [00:08:59] And that is typically where these kind of new technologies find their foothold, that is the most sort of specialty in high value crops. Do you see a time, though, when we’re going to see this technology become more widely adopted? Like, for example, would it be within the realm of the possible to see it in a large scale situation like, say, prairie canola production in the next ten years?

Ashish Malik: [00:09:19] I think so. Very much so. So we are already. So when you’re talking about oil seed crops like canola or sunflowers. There’s a there’s a disease that affects all these crops called Sclerotinia. Sclerotinia head rot. And there are very limited amount of products that are very effective against that disease. Our clonal stacks are biological, is extremely effective against India. And the great thing is that the bees love these oilseed flowers. And in fact, in many cases, honeybees are already being used in commercial oilseed production. So we have done work in sunflowers since we registered in the U.S. Most of our work has been on the sunflower oil seed crop where we’ve been able to show extremely good control of Sclerotinia work done at the North Dakota State University. We’ve also done some work on the West Coast in California and Washington state. So our next stage, once we start the regulatory process in Canada and we get the permits to do large scale trials in Canada will be to also look at canola. But then, even beyond these oil crops, we’ve got a million acres of almonds which are planted in California. We’re doing work on that crop. And, you know, certainly beyond the berry crops, we have opportunities in vegetables and stone fruit as well. And those are all crops that are in our in our in our targets for the future.

Gord Gilmour: [00:10:52] Well, thank you very much for taking the time to run us through some of this. It sounds like very exciting technology.

Ashish Malik: [00:10:57] My pleasure, Gord. Yeah, we are an exciting growth stage for the company, we’ve got a technology that we believe for many, many products is quite revolutionary and we look forward to to telling you more and telling your audience more as our business develops.

Gord Gilmour: [00:11:15] Ok, that’s great, thank you. 

Ashish Malik: Ok.

Gord Gilmour: [00:11:24] That was Ashish Malik telling us about how bees might beat sprayers in the future. You’re listening to Between The Rows, the podcast Glacier Farm Media, I’m your host this week, Manitoba cooperator editor Gord Gilmour. For the last few weeks, it’s been unavoidable. We’ve been in the midst of a federal election and while on the surface it’s back to a liberal minority. Our Autoblog correspondent says there will be changes. DC Fraser joins us now to run through some of them.

Gord Gilmour: [00:12:06] David, thanks for making the time to be here. 

DC Fraser: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. 

Gord Gilmour: So the election we’ve just been through, it’s been described as the $600 million cabinet shuffle. I think I saw a Beaverton headline that said it was the election that everybody lost. Is that a fair characterization of what we’ve just been through as a country?

DC Fraser: [00:12:25] I mean, considering that’s kind of what we’re getting here, I guess it is. It is fair. You know, the Liberals lost two cabinet ministers to defeat, but even the extent of a cabinet shuffle will likely be fairly muted. I think the big players like Chrystia Freeland, they’re going to continue to be prominent, perhaps even in the same positions in cabinet. And I get the headlines that a lot of Canadians have been seeing after this election because it’s pretty easy to be jaded here, particularly if you look or if you’re one of the millions of voters who were looking for that change in government I am one of those folks who tries to look on the bright side. And so here it is any opportunity to debate issues at a national level. I think it’s a privilege, and at least this election provided Canadians with an opportunity to do that.

Gord Gilmour: [00:13:14] And we’ve concentrated, I think, a lot on what it’s left the same. Is it going to change anything, though? And I think that that’s the thing that’s of interest to me. Does it change? Does it help or hurt Trudeau, for example, in pushing his agenda?

DC Fraser: [00:13:28] Yeah, really interesting question. And I think one we won’t fully know the answer to for for for a few more months here, but I’ll take a stab at it. I think when we look at it, at least from a parliamentary democracy point of view, nothing much is changing here. It’s likely now going to be this minority government propped up mostly by the NDP. That will be the case until our next election that was actually scheduled will take place when it comes to Trudeau. Of course, this government can be defeated before then. That seems unlikely just given the appetite across the country for yet another election before 18 months from now. Trudeau, though, I think he’s going to have to reckon with most Canadians seeing this election as kind of a cynical power grab by the prime minister. When you look at this catalogue of scandals that he survived both on the political and the personal side. I’m kind of hesitant to doubt the guy, but he’s clearly spending what little likability capital he has left. And given the results of the last two elections, I’m not sure how enthusiastic his own caucus is going to be to see him run again. I think the bottom line is that despite delivering a status quo government, it is becoming pretty clear that Canadians aren’t satisfied with that status quo.

DC Fraser: [00:14:40] And for the Liberals, the easiest pivot for them to respond to that might be through new leader. In some ways, this kind of reminds me of Brad Wall’s Final Days with the Sask. party. Maybe more seasoned political watchers will have a better example than this, but I was there for it and I did see some parallels. The Sask. party remained popular. Wall himself was was beloved, so that wasn’t quite the same. But within Walls Caucus and the party ranks, there were concerns because scandals were growing in that in that government and their symptoms of a long term government creeping in. Usually looks like arrogance within government and the scandals that I mentioned before. Rather than let that become a problem at the polls, though, Brad Wall spent months just doing a victory lap, celebrating all the other accomplishments he had done already in government. And then he just left. And in doing so, he took all the dirty laundry with him, and he gave his successor, Scott Moe, basically a clean slate to govern from. I don’t know if that’s something the Liberals can steal a playbook, something from the playbook the Liberals can steal, but it’s something that crossed my mind.

Gord Gilmour: [00:15:44] And then more honed in, I guess, on the sector that we pay a lot of attention to, what is this going to mean on the agriculture front, for example, is that the expectation Marie-Claude Bibeau will continue on as minister?

DC Fraser: [00:15:58] Yeah, well, I’m sort of all eyes on this one. And there’s a couple of things at play here. First, the Liberals, they lost four female cabinet ministers since Parliament was dissolved. I think three were defeated on on Monday night. And then one Catherine McKenna, she she chose not to run this time around, given the Prime Minister’s commitment to gender parity within Cabinet and Bibeau’s competence within cabinet. It’s likely she’s going to stay. Now, will it be in agriculture? I’m not sure she does have a bit of a reputation of being difficult to work with. It really isn’t hard to find liberal staffers or former staffers of her in particular, who will tell you that. But overall, I think she’s performed well enough to stay in the portfolio, and I don’t think there’s like huge, huge calls for a fresh face in the posting, particularly coming from industry. But, you know, like for what it’s worth, former aid minister Lawrence Macaulay, he’s still in the picture. He won his seat convincingly on Monday, so he’s back. And as we all know, cabinet building is an art and it takes into consideration more than just performance. There’s a lot of politics behind the scenes at play here, so I’m not in a position right now to say how that may impact Bibeau’s standing. And I’m not a betting man. But if I was, I reckon she’s going to stick around cabinet.

Gord Gilmour: [00:17:14] And now you touched on this a little bit in your your response there with every election, some MPs disappear, new ones appear. I’m assuming that’s the case here, in particular in the agriculture industry. Are there faces that we won’t see anymore or are there new faces that we should keep an eye out for?

DC Fraser: [00:17:29] Yeah. So the one that’s probably most recognizable for people is Wayne Easter. His time and also officially over the longtime MP from P.E.I.. He retired. His seat was, for what it’s worth, retained by the Liberals. And we’re certainly going to see some fresh faces on the agricultural committee. What the who those fresh faces will be, we’re not sure. But for starters, after barely holding his seat in twenty nineteen, the chair of that committee, liberal by the name of Pat Finnegan, he chose not to run again this time around. His seat was one of those in the Maritimes we saw flip blue early in the night. The Liberals lost two other members sitting on that committee, including former parliamentary secretary for Agriculture Mr Neil Ellis and a third liberal might need to be replaced on that committee. Yet, depending on the result of one of those still too close to call seats in Ontario, the block’s main agriculture guy, Yves Perron. He was also running the party’s campaign. He’s going to stay on. He was able to just barely retain his seat. So who the new faces are? We’re not going to. We’re not quite sure. But definitely a lot of sort of mainstays on the Agricultural Committee won’t be back in Ottawa when politicians return here.

Gord Gilmour: [00:18:46] And now, I guess the the final question I have for you is what will you be watching through the agriculture lens as Ottawa gets back to work?

DC Fraser: [00:18:54] Yeah. So the big and sort of never ending challenge for the Minister of Agriculture seems to be reforming business risk management programs in Canada. And as the current Canadian Agricultural Partnership Agreement is soon to expire, the next round of negotiations for four that are beginning. And so that’s going to be a huge task of Bibeau or whoever ends up replacing her of the minister as minister of Agriculture. And we all saw an older role that climate change played in this election and likely will continue to play in elections. There’s calls for the incoming agricultural minister to get to work right away on developing things like a national strategy for Canadian agriculture to ensure that our food systems here are more sustainable. There’s tons of work to be done there. There’s calls for the agriculture minister to better work with her colleagues across across cabinet to get things done, like removing impediments to trade or remove or reforming legislation like the Canadian Grain Act. There’s calls to bring into a focus our animal health policies to focus those a little bit more than they currently are. There’s still this challenge of expanding internet services. We need to get more farmers into the game and then share intergenerational transfers are more easily done. The Minister of Agriculture, whoever it is, is going to be busy, busy, busy, I’m sure.

Gord Gilmour: [00:20:22] Well, thank you for taking the time on the morning after the election to run us through that.

DC Fraser: [00:20:26] Yeah, thanks so much. It’s a pleasure, as always.

Gord Gilmour: [00:20:39] That was Glacier Farm Media Ottawa correspondent D.C. Fraser telling us a bit about how the political landscape has shifted for the agriculture sector following the federal election. You’re listening to Between The Rows, the podcast of Glacier Farm Media. I’m your host this week, Gord Gilmour, even with the Liberals returning to power in Ottawa. There will be a new mandate for all federal ministers and maybe a few fresh faces at the cabinet table. The Canadian Agrifood Policy Institute recently issued a special report that it styled as a briefing binder for whomever the new ag minister may be. One of the authors was Kim McConnell, a CAPI board member. He’s also founder and former CEO of agriculture, marketing and communication firm Ad Firm. In his contribution, he made a passionate plea for the agriculture portfolio to be seen as a front bench ministry. He joins us now by phone from Calgary.

Gord Gilmour: [00:21:43] Kim, thank you for joining us today.

Kim McConnell: [00:21:45] Well, it’s good to be with you, Gord.

Gord Gilmour: [00:21:47] So you make the case in that column that agriculture is a front bench position in government. Can you tell us why you feel that so?

Kim McConnell: [00:21:54] Well, the agriculture and food industry and I think it’s it’s important that we call it the agrifood industry is an industry that’s really integral to the success of very many, many ministries from we touch environment, health, economic development, trade, global affairs, treasury. We touch all of those. We can be a contributor, a positive contributor to every one of those other ministries. So we need to be at the table. We need to be at the table and muscle in if we have to. But it be invited in as well because we can contribute. We are one of few industries that can deliver jobs that can deliver investment and economic development, and we’re probably one of few that can play a leading role in climate change and carbon capture. So we deserve to be at the table and other departments should be seeking us out so that we can provide our input so that our industry can be the true contributor really can be.

Gord Gilmour: [00:23:10] Now the the document that you guys produced at Cap was a sort of an informal briefing book for the minister. How can the new minister and maybe the old minister? We don’t know that yet, but how could the new agriculture minister in the new government that was just elected ensure that it’s seen as such?

Kim McConnell: [00:23:28] Well, I think it just needs to be elevated. You know, you look at the past campaign, for example, there was very little talk about agriculture and food. Yet as I just mentioned here, we touched so many other ministries. We touch the benefits of Canada. So we this this ministry needs to be elevated, elevated in its importance and elevated in its contribution. And I think that’s what the prime minister has an opportunity to do is to elevate this, this ministry, so that it is truly and this minister. So it is truly reflects the contributions that it can, can deliver.

Gord Gilmour: [00:24:11] And now is there a role for the larger industry to to play in having that happen? What can we do to support those efforts?

Kim McConnell: [00:24:17] Well, most certainly we the minister, you know, we are stronger as in when we work, as as industry and as as government and as associations, and we’re much stronger when we do that together. And I think the industry is ready to do this. I think the industry welcomes the opportunity to play a more active role and more participatory role than we maybe have in the past. The food. Food is important. The contributions that we can deliver are important and we have an opportunity to do that. And I think our our industry players are primed for it. They’re ready for it there and there. They could be a true leader like they like we know they are Gord.

Gord Gilmour: [00:25:09] Any last words of advice for the incoming minister?

Kim McConnell: [00:25:12] Well, I would think, yes, my words are you have an important portfolio. The industry is behind you. Muscle into the table. Get your use your elbows to get in if you need to, but you have an important role here to be able to champion. You’re the in many ways, minister the the CEO of our industry, and we’re behind you to to advance our industry and to advance. Our country. And please reach out to us if we if we can be a value of being the industry and the associations that are supporting it and tell us how we can do a better job and we look forward to doing the same with you.

Gord Gilmour: [00:25:53] Well, thank you for your time, Kim.

Kim McConnell: [00:25:55] Very welcome. Thank you for the opportunity.

Gord Gilmour: [00:26:03] That was Canadian Agrifood Policy Institute board member Kim McConnell on why agriculture is a key government portfolio and should be seen as such, you’re listening to Between The Rose and I’m your host this week, Gord Gilmour. One final and very important point before we go. As you know, the Government of Canada recently passed legislation marking September 30th as a day to recognize and commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. Here at BTR and across the Glacier Farm Media Network, we’re recognizing that day with coverage exploring that legacy from our rural and agricultural perspective. I hope you’ll join us. That’s it for this week. I’m your host, Gord Gilmour saying so long and we hope to see you again next week.

Commercial: [00:27:10] Thanks for calling the crop guru. Yeah, I’m wondering about increasing yield and return with optimal P and K applications. O reply hazy, try again. Ok, I also need a nutrient removal calculator. I cannot predict now. Hold on. Are you using a magic eight ball? Signs point to yes.

Commercial: [00:27:29] Get less guessing and more data. Expert research advice and soil management tools are available for free at nutrien-ekonomics. That’s

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