Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saving Bees and Killing Trees

Last week Pioneer hosted a customer meeting in Hensall to address the new neonicotinoid regulations that come into effect on August 31.  Dave Harwood from Pioneer, Tracy Baute from OMAFRA and Peter Johnson from did a great job explaining the regs to and how to work within the framework as laid out by this new legislation to the customers present.  Unfortunately, every time I get exposed to these regulations I get angry over the stupidity of the whole affair and I need to vent.
First some disclosure.  I am in agreement along with other agronomists and a significant number of farmers that we could and maybe should reduce our neonicotinoid footprint.  We farmed successfully before neonics and we certainly can do so again in the absence of  neonic seed treatments. The decision by seed companies to adopt a prophylactic approach by treating every corn seed and the majority of soybean seed has put us in a position that is practically impossible to defend to an urban audience given the current environment.  I want to remind everyone that the real battleground is the mind of the urban dweller who doesn't have a strong opinion either way.  I don't believe the defensive tactics employed by conventional agriculture such as, reduced farm income from crop loss, resulting higher food prices, other factors affect bee health, the MOECC cherry picks data, having to use more tillage and broadcast more insecticide, just to name a few have much traction with the majority of urban dwellers.  They are occupied with their own problems including rising taxes, reduced services, increasing extra curricular program and tuition cost for their children, cost of living etc.  They have no time for an in depth discussion on modern agriculture and pollinator health.
The problem I have is with the attitude of the provincial government and specifically the MOECC.  I refuse to accept the new regulations as they are written and go meekly back to my little corner of Perth county.  Peter Johnson eloquently explained to the audience that this is the not the last intrusion by the environmental lobby into conventional agriculture.  Restrictions on glyphosate, phosphorous usage and possibly GMO's are all on their radar.  The environmental lobby is well connected and understands modern media.  The game has changed and we have not caught up to the rules of this new game.  Everyone in agriculture understands that the urban dweller is vulnerable to slick sound bites and simplistic solutions to the potentially devastating environmental problems that modern, big business agriculture creates.  This frustrates us because when you work with and depend on the environment every day to make a living, the solutions to environmental issues are never simple and slick.  The solutions are very complex, full of unanticipated consequences and cannot be explained in a tweet or facebook post.
With that in mind, given the Blue Jays current run of success I believe it is time to join the game as played by the MOECC and respond by using a bit of good old country hard ball with a 98 mph Aaron Sanchez type fastball tight to their chin, so to speak.
The first time I saw the pest assessment report that farmers are supposed to fill out to identify the need or lack of need for neonic treated seed on their farms I quickly came to the conclusion the best approach would be to do exactly what the MOECC has asked.  Fill out the form for every corn and soybean field in the province and bury them in their own paperwork.  That will never happen because farmers are too busy to do the required scouting, lay the traps, count the bugs and fill in the paper on every field in their operation.  The MOECC has conveniently locked out 75% of certified crop advisors who could pinch hit for the farmer and help him with this task.  Any certified crop advisor who makes money by selling neonic treated seed cannot participate in the scouting work, let alone fill out the report.  Filling out false paperwork is not professional, is highly unethical and should not be done by the farmer or the advisor.  The seed companies are already making noise that non-treated seed will be cheaper than neonic treated seed which provides an incentive for the producer to pass on the paperwork and take the chance with a fungicide only seed treatment, playing right into the MOECC's hand. Seed companies are also starting to talk about new seed placed insecticides that are bee friendly and will be outside the new class 12 family of insecticide seed treatments.  Before you assume life will return to normal ask the following question.  What will stop the MOECC from placing any new seed insecticide treatment under the new regulations?  It just takes the stroke of a pen.
Given that farmers are not going to send in the reports which is what the MOECC has planned on from the beginning, I came to a second conclusion.  What farmers do with the forms is not important at all.  Perception is the new reality.  Here is my idea.
There are approximately 5,000,000 acres of corn and soybeans in the province.  I figure the average field size is about 35 acres.  That means that the MOECC has potentially asked for 5,000,000 divide by 35 = 142,857 reports.  Each report is 4 pages which includes a field sketch showing where traps were placed.  We will keep the math simple, 140,000 x 4 = 560,000 pages.  But wait, each report has to be submitted to every seed vendor, Pioneer, Dekalb, Pride, Maisex, Dow, Cropland etc that the farmer does business with.  The vendors are responsible to collect the reports and forward them to the MOECC.  Most farmers deal with at least three different seed vendors for their corn and soybean needs.  Suddenly that 560,000 pages becomes 1,680,000 pages of paper.  I buy my copy paper in boxes of 5,000.  1.68 million pieces is 336 cases of paper.
Place ads in all the urban press with a backdrop of 330 cases of paper, combined with a picture of a tree with a red X drawn through it explaining that the MOECC has asked Ontario farmers to submit this pile of paper which would result in the destruction of countless number of trees.  I think this is a simple message that will easily resonate with the average urban dweller and make them ponder the integrity of the MOECC.  In the body of the ad some points could be made.
1. How does anyone with common sense believe the MOECC has the time or resources to review 1.7 million pages of documents.
2. The 1.7 million pages provide no guarantee of improving bee health, but will promptly result in the destruction of habitat.  Maintaining habitat is important for sustaining a strong pollinator population.
3. Bees and other pollinators forage more in trees than they do in corn and soybean fields.
4. Farmers are very tech savvy and could easily submit this paper electronically and save the trees. But the MOECC has not discovered the 21st century yet and does not allow electronic submission.
Hold a press conference or two with well spoken farmers using a back drop of piles of copy paper, who could hold up 3 ring binders full of documents that need to be submitted by them to the MOECC.  Make the point that most documents will never be reviewed because the MOECC does not have the people to do it, which is probably why they did not want them done electronically.  What a waste of resources.  Expose the farce that it is in very simplistic terms.  Tweet, Facebook and Pinterest the bejeepers out of the scenes.
Put the environmental lobby on the defensive.  Give them a taste of their own medicine.

It probably is a stupid idea because I am not an expert in communication or marketing.  I do not understand the nuances of influencing people through the media.  I just think it would be fun to use some of the same tactics that are used on us.  But this is not fun, it is serious business and cannot be taken lightly.  Smarter people need to show us the way, but at the moment I do not know who to call.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Just In Time

The rain received last night met the classic definition of the million dollar rain.  It has been well documented and said many times how August is the month that determines soybean yield. No matter what May to July brings, August is the key.  For much of July the management focus was on when and how to apply fungicide for the purpose of white mold control. From where I sit mother nature was busy applying a pretty good dose of her own fungicide, dry weather.
Last week soybeans were suffering from a variety of conditions that had nothing to do with white mold.  When you want to tell a story of crop development, start at the roots.
Soybeans are a tap root crop.  This is a not a good example of a tap root.  This is a no-till field following corn in 2014.  Part of the field is fine, but in spots where heavy rain accumulated the top 4 inches of soil has turned to a brick.
This picture is obviously up side down, but you get my  point.  The effect of soil conditions on soybeans was evident 6 weeks ago, even in well drained loamy soils.  But, you had to look close to find it.  
These weak roots from a different field taken back in June are suffering from rhizoctonia root rot. The root problems have led to similar stunting symptoms and reduced stands as the first field shown above.

While corn has on average appeared to improve, soybeans have faded due to the same tight soil problems which plagued the corn crop. That is because the peak demand for nutrient and water uptake in soybeans is now.  In a corn crop the poor spots are hidden from view by the good spots, but the soybean crop is reverse.  The poor spots become more evident.
The number one solution is simple.  More rotation is required.  More wheat and fibrous rooted cover crops are needed.  Soybeans contribute zero to soil quality.  The temptation to deep rip these poor soybean fields after harvest must be resisted.  Steel's contribution to long term soil quality is not much better than the soybean.  

To add insult to injury, soybean aphids are back.  I took this picture 3 weeks ago and at that time hot spots were extremely scattered.  That has changed.  Folks to the north of us have been spraying for several weeks.  Now practically all fields from St Marys through St Pauls have aphid numbers at threshold, which is 1000 aphids per plant.  The reason 250 aphids and increasing is quoted as a trigger is that it gives you time to organize a spray program.  By the time you get there, hopefully the numbers are still less than a 1000.  Predator numbers have been extremely low to date which only gives us another reason to pull the sprayer out one more time.