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Canola, chemicals and bees: Why Canadian farmers are fighting a proposed pesticide ban

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Health Canada is following in the European Union’s footsteps as it moves to ban the use of neonic pesticides due to concerns about their impact on bees and other wildlife. But many farmers are fighting to maintain the status quo.

Canola growers, in particular, say the ban would increase costs and put their crops at risk of being lost to flea beetles. They say other types of pesticides are not as effective and therefore require higher volumes to be applied to crops.

“The alternatives are worse — worse for the environment, worse for farmers who are applying it, and just substandard in every way,” said Renn Breitkreuz, chairman of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

Scientific research has shown neonicotinoids, commonly known as neonics, are harmful to a variety of aquatic life and insects, such as bees, which is why the EU banned the outdoor use of the pesticides last April.

In August, Health Canada proposed a ban on neonics that would phase out the chemicals in the next three to five years.

When Health Canada asked for public feedback in the fall, canola farmers obliged with letters detailing their concerns. 

Farmers coat seeds with neonics before they are planted. The chemical protects the canola crop from pests as the plants begin to grow.

“To be blunt, we’re puzzled why they would want to remove these products from our toolkit,” said Breitkreuz, who farms near Onoway, Alta., about 50 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

Breitkreuz said neonics are safe for farmers to handle, have little impact on the environment and are very effective in controlling pests.

Renn Breitkreuz, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, says it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to allow the use of neonics. (CBC)

Farmers are concerned about the research Health Canada relied on to make its decision. They say the science included faulty assumptions and relied on small sample sizes. As a result, some farmers in Western Canada are collecting their own water-monitoring data to submit to the federal government.

Rick White, chief executive of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, says the issue is important because neonics are “a very efficient, effective and targeted way of dealing with pests, which can wipe out an entire canola crop in just a number of days.”

However, the EU decided neonics do more harm than good.

The EU began restricting use of the pesticides in 2013 because scientific studies had long linked them to the decline of bees and other pollinators. In 2018, the EU voted for a ban on all outdoor use and to only permit application in sealed greenhouses.

Last year, more than 240 scientists from Canada and around the world signed an open letter calling for restrictions on neonics.

Scientific studies have shown neonics damage the ability of a variety of bees to reproduce.

‘Solid research’

Some of the research was conducted by Amro Zayed, a biologist at York University in Toronto. His team carried out a long-term study examining colonies located near and far away from cornfields. They observed negative effects on the colonies that came in contact with the pesticide, including queen and worker honeybees with shorter life spans.

“From my perspective, we’ve done really solid research on this,” Zayed said. “We clearly demonstrated that in Ontario and Quebec, exposure to these chemicals has negative consequences on bee health.”

Scientists have welcomed Health Canada’s proposed ban because of their serious concerns about the harmful effects of neonics on bees, butterflies and aquatic organisms. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Studies have also linked neonics to death and reproductive problems in birds and wild turkeys.

Canola farmers say their use of neonics has a smaller impact on the environment than other pesticides because the seeds are injected into the ground, so the pesticide is less likely to spread in the air.

Middle ground?

Instead of a ban, Rick White of the Canadian Canola Growers Association said it’s possible Health Canada and farmers could find some middle ground and agree on a mitigation strategy, with directions for how and where neonics can be used to treat seeds.

“There may be ways to minimize the problem, if there is a problem,” he said.

Health Canada declined CBC’s interview request. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said a final decision about the proposed ban will come later this year.

“We have completed the scientific review work related to pollinators and anticipate publishing the results of the review and decision in spring 2019,” said Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge.

Additional data and stakeholder feedback on the protection of aquatic insects is also being reviewed by Health Canada.

In 2015, the Ontario government put some restrictions on the use of neonics.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found neonics offer no yield benefits to soy crops typically treated with the chemicals.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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