I learned a lot this week during the Farm Progress Show but one particular thing I learned about was neonicotinoids. Until I met Pete Nowak with Madison, Wisconsin-based AgInfomatics and an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I had never heard the term nor had any idea what it meant. Now I do.
So let’s go to school for a moment. Nowak explained that a neonicotinoid is a compound and there are a number of types of neonicotinoids. These are better known as insecticides and they are the broadest used insecticides in the world, used on almost all the corn and soybean crops in the U.S. and Canada as well as a number of the other major commodity crops. The way they are used is that is is a coating applied on the outside of the seed so when the seed is planted it becomes systemic in the plant once it grows. The only way you will have an impact is if a insect bites the plant and then starts chewing on the plant the insect will die. (I asked Nowak about bees and he said they are safe from insecticides.)
Although insecticides are used around the world, they are regulated differently. “We are focusing on two agencies. In the United States its the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and in Canada it is the Pesticide Management Regulatory Authority,” explained Nowak. “They are looking at neonicotinoids now as part of a registration process and they realize we just don’t have good data on the benefits; how important these insecticides are.”
There are four companies that have come together to fund the studies including Syngenta, Bayer, Valiant and Mitsui. AgInfomatics is doing the research and then it will be given to the companies who will they give the research to the regulatory agencies.
The study is going to be structured to answer the question relative to the benefits. “If you’re going to look at the benefits, there are different ways you can do it,” said Nowak. “Let’s assume a certain situation or event occurs and let’s understand what would happen there. So one way to determine what the benefits are, let’s assume neonicotinoids are not there anymore. What would happen to agriculture? So we quantified that by saying farmers will have to use this compound and that compound at this rate and what’s the cost with that and what’s the environmental implications with that and how effective is pest control with that so all those issues are wrapped up in these technical reports.”
The study will determine what the true cost is if insecticides were not used as well as use valuation techniques to determine what would be the cost in time or to run your operation if insecticides were not available. His research team interviewed over 10,000 farmers and residents to begin to understand how important they are to the American farmers.
The first technical report will be released in a few weeks with a total of 14 technical reports issued in all.
To learn more about the neonicotinoids research, listen to my interview with Pete Nowak: Interview with Pete Nowak, AgInfomatics
View the Farm Progress 2014 Flicker photo album.