Farmers charged over spray imports


More farmers are being charged with smuggling U.S. pesticides. Three farmers are scheduled to appear in Sarnia court this month, charged with 15 counts under the Canada Customs Act. They join Mervyn Erb of Huron AgVise in Brucefield, who heads back into court March 28 in Goderich to face 40 charges connected with illegally imported chemicals.

Penalties under the Customs Act include fines of up to $50,000 or $500,000 depending on the charge, and are much stiffer than the $2,000 maximum allowed under the federal Pest Control Products Act.

As well, farmers can be charged under the Customs Act for simple possession of an illegally imported chemical, which can be identified by the label, but possession isn't enough for a charge under pesticide legislation.

Meanwhile, the Ontario farm industry is having a tough time figuring out its next step.

AGCare, the farm environmental coalition, considers the issue largely a public relations threat. "We shouldn't be talking about banned sprays or smuggled chemicals," says AGCare president and Georgetown cash cropper Bill Allison. "We should call them pre-registered pesticides."

Allison says most illegally-imported chemicals get brought into Canada because Ottawa is taking too long to approve them for legal sale in Canada, even though they're widely used in the U.S.

"We're not condoning the imports, but we think the real solution lies in getting improvements made to the registration system," he says.

While it seeks those changes, however, AGCare is turning a deaf ear to calls from the Fertilizer Institute of Ontario and the federal agriculture department to tell farmers that it's wrong to spray smuggled chemicals.

"They listen very nicely when we ask them, but nothing happens," says Ross Pettigrew, chief pesticides officer for the federal agriculture department in Ontario.

The fertilizer institute, whose 250 members sell 80 per cent of the pesticides used in Ontario, estimates that farmers are spraying illegal chemicals on at least 200,000 acres of cash crops.

Tom Sawyer, institute manager, says the farmers are playing with fire. "Agriculture is a $6 billion business in the province," he says. "If we continue down this road, the quality of our food is going to be questioned. Where will we be if the 11 million people who live in this province lose their confidence in us?"

AGCare, in return, accuses the dealers of exaggerating the smuggling issue because they're more worried about lost chemical sales than about the long-term future of agriculture. Despite the new smuggling charges, and despite extra publicity, federal officials are going to do little to catch more smugglers.

Customs inspectors must enforce 60 different acts, and while they say they will track down complaints, they also have little hope of beefing up border inspections.

The federal agriculture department will also check out complaints, and will conduct a survey to try to find out how widely the illegal chemicals are being sprayed. But, Pettigrew says, "We are not stepping up enforcement."

AGCare is studying a new proposal to speed up the flow of new chemicals through Ottawa's regulatory maze.

Under current rules, companies must prove that a chemical works before it can be registered, Allison points out. It's called the efficacy requirement, and is largely meant to protect farmers from chemical companies that might try to sell dud pesticides.

Allison points out that U.S. companies don't have to file any efficacy data to get registrations. "Maybe we should look at that here, if it means we'll get these new materials faster," Allison says. Farmers would check out new pesticides the same way they check out new corn hybrids, looking at a combination of company and government research.

Lyle Vanclief, federal MP for Prince Edward county and lead pesticide policy maker for the Chretien government, says it's worth looking at. "I know that farmers won't buy mousetraps if they don't catch mice," Vanclief told Farm and Country. "My initial reaction about going to a system that's totally buyer-beware is that we would be taking a step backward." The efficacy studies are also part of Canada's environmental philosophy, Vanclief says. The message is that Canada won't release chemicals into the environment unless there's a good reason for using them.

Vanclief points out that Canada also makes companies do tests on pesticide exposure to workers, which aren't required in the U.S., and he says it's unlikely Ottawa would be willing to waive them.

Allison, however, says the best solutions to illegal chemicals will be found in the corridors of Ottawa's government buildings, not the back roads of Ontario's townships. "We fell this isn't about food or environmental safety," Allison says. "We want to keep focusing on the reasons why farmers may think they need to use these pesticides."


Farmers find time for the environment


More farmers are signing up for Environmental Farm Plan workshops throughout the province, and organizers are saying it's proof the plan is gaining acceptance as part of the regular business of being a farmer in Ontario.

The EFP program has had a difficult birth, with fewer than 2,200 farmers taking the workshops last winter, less than half the 5,000 that organizers had predicted.

This year, the program has turned a corner, says Eugene Swain, EFP co-ordinator for Kent county, where opposition to the farm plans in 1995 sparked resolutions calling for an end to the peer review process.

"The attitude is completely positive," Swain says. "I'm not saying everybody is breaking my door down to get into a workshop, but a lot of people are calling me on their own, asking to sign up. That hasn't happened before."

Swain says the total number of Kent workshops, expected to hit about 16 this year, isn't that much higher than the dozen held last year. "But what the numbers don't tell you is the amount of commitment we're seeing," he says. "Last year a lot came because they were persuaded they should. This year they're coming on their own."

In Bruce county, EFP representative John Wilton expects over 160 farmers to take the workshops, up from just 30 last year. "We're running pretty full," Wilton says. "It looks like we're going to have to add at least another workshop."

Wilton credits much of the Bruce growth to the local federation of agriculture, which has hit the telephone lines to encourage farmers to sign up.

Bruce federation president Jim Farrell says the county set up an EFP committee with three to four farmers for each township being asked to contact federation members.

Farrell says they started with a brain-storming session, followed by a kick-off party to build momentum. Committee members were educated about making a pitch by phone; how to answer farmer complaints that EFPs take too much time; and how to calm fears that information farmers put on their plans will be leaked to government, resulting in a nasty visit from the environment ministry.

"As it turns out, we aren't running into any negativity," Farrell says. "I think it's because the message that everybody gets from the farmers who have gone through the course is that it's really worth doing."

The Bruce Farm Safety Association also filled a workshop this winter, as it did last year. And Wilton thinks the work of the farm organizations will pay dividends far into the future.

In Dufferin county, Jonathan Watchurst reports that 22 farmers took EFP workshops last winter. The tally for this winter already stands at 63, with a steady flow of more farmers. Watchurst says that on-going promotional campaigns have helped. "For instance, the message is starting to get through that the courses are free," he says. "A lot of farmers thought they would have to pay."

Farmers are coming out too because the federal government has tripled the incentive program to $1,500 to help farmers make their farms and farmsteads more environmentally safe, he says. "It's a nice carrot."

But Watchurst thinks that most farmers are participating out because they're hearing from other farmers that "there's a lot to learn. There are a lot of small improvements that will make their farms safer for their families, first and foremost, and for their communities too.

"The feeling I get is, the program is maturing," Watchurst says. "It's being accepted as something every farmer should do."

Don Hill, EFP co-ordinator for Ontario, is hesitant about predicting how many farmers will take workshops this winter. "We're hoping it will be above 2,500.

"It looks like the logjam has been broken," Hill says. "The farm plan program is building its own momentum."

Bruce county's Jim Farrell thinks 1996 could prove the year the farms win a permanent spot in Ontario agriculture. "All the work that has been done in the last three years is starting to bear fruit. I'm overwhelmed."


Free trade will pay, says global guru


Push harder for free trade and save the environment, Dennis Avery tells just about anyone who is willing to listen, including Crop Protection Institute of Canada members in Kitchener recently.

Indonesia, said the director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based economic think- tank, proves his point.

Two years ago, and virtually unnoticed, the southeast Asian country opened its doors to soybeans and corn grown in North America.

Indonesia has 205 million people and a high annual rate of economic growth, but couldn't grow enough feed to raise the chickens its increasingly-prosperous population demanded. With an open border to grain imports, its poultry industry has grown 25 per cent in one year to 750 million birds from 600 million.

Not only are North American grain and oilseeds being used but tropical forests aren't being cut down any more to grow the soybeans necessary to feed the birds, Avery said.

Economies are popping like ripe seed pods all over central and southeast Asia, he said. Three billion Asians who used to subsist on 15 grams of protein per day are now striving to catch up to North America, Western Europe and Japan who eat more than four times that amount.

Demand for animal protein is rising at an incredible pace, with virtually all the feed to grow it being imported. Avery offered his list of good news stories:

- The Philippines is recovering from economic plunder by Ferdinand Marcos and his friends in the 1960s and '70s. Tariff walls that used to keep oilseed and rice prices at twice world levels are coming down.

- With a population of 21 million, Taiwan used to be an exporter and fiercely defended its markets against imports. But environmental degradation concerns will force farm output cuts of 15 per cent within five years. Food imports are sure to rise.

- Steady economic growth is expected for years ahead in Bangladesh, in spite of political turmoil.

- India now has as many middle class consumers as there are in all of North America. And Avery said the largely Hindu population will eat meat if it can afford to, and even now drinks a lot of milk and eats fermented butter.

- In China, meat consumption is rising at 10 per cent annually or four million tonnes per year. Eighty per cent of it is pork, and each ton of meat is taking five tonnes of feed to produce. He thinks it will take China 20 years to reach the prosperity Japan now enjoys.

"It's a permanent increase, not a replay of the late 1970s," which he said, resulted from the phony prosperity of an oil cartel.

"It's a global trend towards everyone being rich eventually and everyone but Africa being rich quite soon."

The bad news is that India, and other countries which try to restrict trade to prop up their rural economies, are plundering the environment. Their shortfall is a lack of fodder for cattle. Trees are being stripped to feed livestock. "The question is whether we will produce food on efficient farmland or on land that is stolen from wildlife," Avery said. These countries all have more people than they can grow food for themselves, but they can afford to buy it elsewhere, he said, and they want to eat meat. "The diet of the future will not be vegetarian," he asserted. "In 10,000 years of history there has never been a voluntarily vegetarian culture anywhere in the world."

North Africa is being held back because of Islamic fundamentalism. "It could force people back to poverty, but I don't think (prosperity) is going to be derailed." While South Africa is making good progress towards more prosperity for everyone, most of the rest of the continent is held back by tribalism.

World food demand has increased substantially and exports haven't. The reasons for trade barriers are rural politics, Avery asserts, not so-called food security. Finland has told its consumers for 40 years that it can grow wheat. This year, with a harvest disaster, Finland bought wheat on the world market cheaper than it could be bought from its own farmers.

India is the only country in the world which stores grain for food security. Australia is too drought-prone to be a steady grain exporter, and New Zealand is already growing as much grass as it can. He predicts that Argentina and Uruguay will have to give up their low-cost farming systems and imitate North America and Europe.

"I can't get in the media telling people everything is all right. All this fear of farm chemicals isn't going to keep anybody from getting cancer and it will cost us wildlife." North America should get more than half of the new growth in world food demand over the next three decades, because of its access to new technology and its export infrastructure, Avery said. Western Europe is hamstrung by environmental regulations and slashed subsidies he said. Eastern Europe lacks the infrastructure, capital farm inputs and political stability to be a force.

Argentina is most likely to be the next beneficiary, but it will have to give up its low-cost pasture-crop rotation system. Even so, it would have only one-third as much cropland as the U.S.


Weed-resistance hard to call


Weeds that are resistant to Pursuit are already hiding in Ontario soybean fields, waiting for their chance to explode throughout the crop, destroying yield hopes and permanently robbing farmers of a whole family of very effective herbicides.

Will 1996 be the year? Weed experts say they aren't sure. But in Minnesota, where just like in Ontario, soybean growers use Pursuit on about 70 per cent of their acreage, it's already happened.

"What's most striking is how fast we can get resistance," says Jeff Gunsolus, agronomist for the University of Minnesota. "Under the right conditions, all it's taking is four or five years."

Gunsolus says Minnesota farmers are battling Pursuit- resistant cocklebur and kochia. A new strain of kochia is resistant to both Pursuit and the active ingredient in Pinnacle, hitting a state farmer after just four years rotating the chemicals in a soybean-wheat cycle.

Growers are shocked, he says. In almost every case, they see fields that go from near perfect weed control one year to a weedy waste the next.

Meanwhile, their neighbours, who have rotated their chemicals and used tank- mixes, and often cultivation as well, find their Pursuit works as well as ever.

Gunsolus says it's clear that outbreaks of resistant weeds are a direct result of herbicide abuse. There's no bad luck about it.

Weeds don't get resistance from sudden genetic mutations, or as a rare side-effect of the herbicide spray, he points out. Instead, most weed populations have a low but natural level of plants that can survive the chemical.

The key, says Gabrielle Ferguson, crops adviser for the Ontario agriculture ministry, is how farmers manage those one-in-a-million plants.

If they keep spraying the same chemical, that plant will be one in 100,000 the second year, one in 20,000 the third, and one in 300 the fourth, she says. "You'll look at the field and think your weed control is still excellent," she says. "You'll still be getting 99 per cent control."

The fifth year, the resistant weeds may be four in 100, and the farmer may think the spray didn't work quite right. But one more year with the same program and the resistant plants will make up 60 per cent of all the weeds in the field. Control will drop to 40 per cent - a total failure.

It's why Ontario farmers and experts can't know how close they're coming to major outbreaks of resistant weeds, she says. "You think everything's fine, and then overnight it hits you."

Ferguson tells farmers to watch for the signals that they may be building resistance in their fields, and to set out a strategy for all their fields to make sure they prevent the outbreaks.

Fields with highest risk have a history of continuous soys or corn treated with a single herbicide and no cultivation. Other risk factors include fields where farmers rely on a single mode of action, such as the ALS inhibitors, including Pursuit, Pinnacle, Ultim, Elim, and the new Broadstrike.

Fields are also in danger if farmers don't keep records of their weed control programs, so they can't track of their resistance risk.

The key to avoiding resistance is to make sure every weed gets hit with more than one weapon, Ferguson says. Cultivating is a valuable anti-resistance tool, although with over half the soybean acres in Ontario's soybean belt planted no-till, it's used less.

Ferguson urges farmers to get used to thinking of their herbicides in terms of groups, as listed for instance on page 21 of Publication 75, the provincial government's Guide to Weed Control available at all ag offices and most chemical dealers.

Mixing groups means farmers are mixing the part of the plant that they're attacking, she explains. That raises the odds of encountering a resistant plant from one-in-one- million to a much better one-in-one- trillion.

Spraying Pursuit tank-mixed with Basagran, for example, virtually eliminates the chance of resistance developing in broad-leaf weeds, especially if the field is rotated into corn the following year and sprayed, for instance, with Dual and atrazine, and then put into wheat the third year sprayed with 2,4-D.

Herbicide rotation may mean farmers can't always turn to the herbicide that looks like the best value. Ferguson figures rotation will cost $3 to $4 extra a year, although that can be brought down using cheaper herbicides where possible such as Treflan and Pardner.

Gunsolus warns farmers to think of the cost of resistance before they shun the higher herbicide price.

There's no realistic way to test most weeds for resistance, he says. As a result, the only way farmers find out they've got resistance is when the field is carpeted with green. That means the farmer either pays money for an emergency rescue spray, or loses yield.

As well, resistance costs the farmer the chemical, probably forever, and also a host of related chemicals. "There aren't going to be as many new herbicides coming onto the market," Gunsolus says. "We've got to keep the ones we have."

Yet Gunsolus and Ferguson say that anti-resistance strategies are a tough sell, north and south of the border. "People are aware of it...I'm not sure they're actually doing anything to prevent resistance," Ferguson says.


Seed corn surcharge debated

Seed corn companies say they'll fight a bid by the Ontario Corn Producers Association (OCPA) to hit seed corn with a surcharge aimed at raising funds for research.

If the companies collect 50 cents per bag, the corn industry would generate an extra $350,000 a year for research, says Terry Daynard, OCPA executive vice president.

"We may be able to get this through in 1996," Daynard says. Together with the $150,000 the OCPA already invests in research from its check-off on sales of commercial corn, and the $160,000 a year that will come from the province's two new ethanol plants, the corn industry would then have an annual $660,000 war chest for corn research.

"The truth is, the corn industry in Ontario is going to live or die based on the quality of our research," Daynard says. "With that kind of money, we'd be able to have a major impact."

Most farmers, are ready to support the plan, Daynard says. "And while there may be opposition in the industry, my sense is it isn't as strong as it used to be."

Seed corn companies, however, say they don't want anything to do with a seed corn check-off.

"The issue isn't our support for research," says Bob Pryce of Ciba Seeds, chairman of the Canadian Seed Trade Association's corn committee. "We're actually increasing our investment in research."

Instead, seed companies don't want the extra cost and complications of collecting a check-off, he says.

As well, seed companies don't want to be forced to support OCPA policies. "We're in the business to sell seed," Pryce says. "When the farmer asks what the extra charge is all about, we don't want to have to sell the OCPA too."

Pryce says it's also possible the OCPA would use the funds it gets from seed corn companies to do research that might duplicate research a company is already doing with its own private funding, or research that might be aimed at producing hybrids that would compete against the company's product line.

The corn association has approached the seed trade corn committee about the check-off, he says, "but we haven't discussed it. My sense is, the companies aren't in favour." On that list is Bill Parks, president of Pioneer Hi-Bred and chairman of the Canadian Seed Trade Association. "It's not our job to collect their money," Parks says. -TB


Up-front fertilizer


One-pass planting looks great on paper, but when you're out in the tractor cab and it's polyethylene tanks as far as the eye can see, it may be time to rework a few things.

Appin, Elgin county, no-tiller Ian MacLean likes the time and money he saves by side-dressing his corn seed while planting. But he also likes to see what he's doing, so two years ago he bought a used polyethylene tank and two-wheel carriage, and mounted it to the front of his White 2145 130-hp tractor.

The Demco 500-gallon tank rides on castor wheels in front, carrying 28-per-cent nitrogen, which is moved by squeeze pumps and dropped down behind the no-till coulters on his White 5100 six-row corn planter, fitted with the Rawson zone-till system. Fertilizer is placed four inches to one side of the seed.

The tank is normally mounted on the three-point hitch, but MacLean built a frame allowing him to push instead of pull. He puts on 35 to 40 gallons an acre. An extra 300-gallon tank on the three-point hitch holding the 28-per-cent allows him to go up to 19 acres before refilling. Dry potash and liquid fertilizer are also applied.

The tank was bought second-hand, and the steel for the frame was scrap; MacLean figures most of the cost went into the time to build it. "If you can build it cheaper, and customize it to suit you, you go that way," says the cash cropper who has 500 acres, including hay for his custom cattle feeding business. Corn yield last year was lower than average, but MacLean, who has no-tilled since 1990, doesn't blame it on the sidedressing. He says a lot of plants leafed underground due to hot weather at germination, and the area had a dry summer. Soybeans were also below average, as a result of weed pressure.

While 1996 cropping plans are "still on the drawing board", MacLean says in retrospect the corn may have been planted a little too deep, at two inches: "Maybe 1.5 would have been better."

As for the one-pass fertilizing, MacLean says he'll be pushing the tank again this spring: "I'd like to save that sidedressing pass."