An Industry Under Pressure

sept14_gv_1I was honoured to accept the president’s gavel at the 91st Annual Meeting of the Canadian Seed Trade Association. I look forward to working with a truly exceptional board of directors and a committed and engaged membership to move our association through its 92nd year.

As a farmer, seed producer and president of CSTA, I believe that seed is the driver of the innovation that Canada and the world needs to feed, clothe and fuel a growing population, while protecting and enhancing the environment and precious natural resources.

Unfortunately, there are those who do not have the same beliefs. Our industry is entering a challenging and potentially threatening new era. The abundance of an assured, inexpensive supply of safe and delicious food has lulled many consumers into indifference about their food and how it is produced.

Fears Threaten Science
Most recently, that indifference is being replaced with doubt and fear, perpetuated by organizations and individuals who reap financial rewards from that fear and doubt.

What the public doesn’t seem to know, or care to know, and what some non-government organizations don’t want the public to know is how hard our sector works to produce high quality, safe and inexpensive food.

Farmers are stewards of the land, and it’s a role that we do not take lightly. As a farmer, I know that my livelihood depends on the health of the environment in which I operate. As a seed producer and a provider of technology carried in and on the seed, I know that it is my job to ensure that farmers have access to products and processes that will help them continue to improve the health of the soil, make better use of natural resources such as water, protect the environment and stay financially viable.

Take the current bee health issue as an example. It wasn’t that long ago when farmers were facing substantial losses to early insect pressure. Up to 30 per cent of crops in some areas had to be re-planted because insects destroyed the plants before they were even established.

In an attempt to protect germinating seeds from the ravages of insects, farmers used products such as Diazonon Lindane sprinkled in the seed box. They used organophosphate or pyrethroid insecticides in the furrow, or resorted to over-the-top spray applications of the same compounds. These were not very selective or controlled approaches to managing insect pressure.

Modern seed treatments now offer a wide range of protection in a relatively low dose, coating the outside of the seed. The amount of active ingredient put on the land is 10 per cent of that contributed by in-furrow treatments, and only one per cent of that applied with foliar sprays. Farmers have widely adopted the technology because it facilitates a no-till, precision agricultural operation that protects fragile soil, reduces erosion and helps to ensure that every seed planted can grow.

When dust from planting of treated seed was suspect of having a negative impact on bees, our industry moved swiftly to implement new practices and adopt new technologies to substantially reduce dust. The seed industry also offered farmers greater choice of non-insecticide treated seed.

The result: despite our very long and harsh winter, the number of bee death incidents reported to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency this spring was one-third of the incidents reported in 2013. And the number of affected bees per incident was 10 times lower than in 2013.

But the issues we face go beyond the immediate bee health challenges. The public is speaking out against technology that it doesn’t understand with an emotional and almost fearful cry. We need to listen and the entire agriculture industry needs to come together to support modern agriculture as a steward of health, safety and the environment.

I am up for the challenge, and I look forward to working with CSTA’s members, industry partners and our committed farmer customers to address it.

Dave Baute, 2014-15 president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association and Maizex Seeds Inc. president

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