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 RealAgriculture.com 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.
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.