Why don’t New Zealand farmers know what systemic insecticide is on their treated ryegrass seeds?

OK guys – we’re not talking about the best way to saute mushrooms,  the new 1940’s vibe, block colour and wedge shoes.  We are talking about farmers not knowing what chemical is on the seed they put in the ground and I humbly suggest that this is WRONG!  So read on and live outside of fashion & food!  I dare you.

Seed companies in New Zealand are treating ryegrass seeds to protect against black beetle and Argentine stem weevil.  They use  clever systemic pesticides, neonicotinoids.  These treated seeds take up the chemical which then cruises in the sap and pollen of the flower.   Agropages data tell us ‘ingestion of plant materials by pests results in rapid cessation of feeding then death’.  That means these insects don’t have a chance, dude.

The neonicotinoids are referred to as ‘plant protection products’, PPP’s.  Kind chemicals that let plants grow.  Nice, loving, thoughtful chemicals for happy green plants.

So when my dairy farmer brother-in-law who doesn’t use pesticides, bought a bag of ryegrass seeds with ‘systemic pesticide’ written on the front of it, I got curiouser and curiouser.

What was the systemic pesticide? And he was just as curious.  So I asked Farmlands (a huge ag products retailer here in New Zealand).  They didn’t know.  I rang another Farmlands just to be sure.  They didn’t know either.  Then I rang a PG Wrightson agronomist.  They didn’t know either, but they could tell me the stuff worked fantastically, and maybe 80% of his clients were buying it.  But didn’t know what the chemical was.  Sorry.

I rang Specialty Seeds.  They didn’t know either and had been trying to find out.  They know their clients want to know what is on their seeds.  They want to know what the chemicals are that go in their soil.

So I start emailing PG Wrightson and Agricote.  I’m sure I was classified as a pest.

They were jolly reluctant to tell me.  At one stage I got an email from PG Wrightson saying  ‘pesticides used in seed treatment are all registered under the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997 and used in accordance with the requirements of that Act. The seed treatment formulations and sales information figures are commercially sensitive.  Bayer and the other suppliers of pesticides can provide detailed information on neonicotinoids.’

And I thought – how can I ask Bayer about the chemicals they are using if they don’t tell me?  And I also thought, what does ‘commercially sensitive’ mean?

Does it mean that farmers might want to know about the chemicals going on their farms?

Does it mean farmers might be concerned about the longevity of the ‘systemic pesticide’  in their soil?  Do you want to know what is happening in your backyard?

And the impact on soil organisms and arthropods that help break down dry matter to improve the quality of the soil? (The little teeny tiny things you often can’t see). Because if you don’t have dry matter breaking down and entering your soil in the form of added humus, don’t you just end up with something like clay?  I don’t think that grows as nice grass as rich humus’y carbon filled soil.  I could be wrong.

It’s kind of like all that stuff in your guts working away. You need that stuff to WORK!

And when I read about neonicotinoids like clothianidin being classified by both the US EPA and Europe as ‘toxic to bees’ and note that both Europe and the USA require listing of the chemical, the active ingredient on product packaging – it does make me think that the man at PG Wrightson has every right to tell me that the product is commercially sensitive.   Whatever it is.

Another thought – if bee populations decline because of the lethal and sub-lethal effects of the chemical in the nectar and the sap, what will happen to clover on these farms?  I hear that farmers do still want clover for self seeding and natural nitrogen production.  They don’t want to just depend on synthetic nitrogen.  (Hi Government people! If bees die and farmers lose their natural clover base then farmers will have to add more synthetic fertilisers and there will be even MORE runoff into streams!  Just to let you know!). And seeds are expensive.  But it will be hard for farmers to identify clover decline because clover seeds last a long time (say, 50 years), so there is the chance farmers may not notice the decline in clover seed production for a while.  So where will farmers get their clover seeds from?  I know, it will drop from heaven with little buckets of gold attached to it.

And what about exposure to birds?  The US EPA conditional registration fact sheet mentioned ‘exposure to treated seeds through ingestion may result in chronic toxic risk to birds’.   But then most birds here are insect eaters so why worry about yellowhammers and finches, they are just a small proportion of the bird population.  And is the seed from the mature plant full of the stuff?  I dunno.  Just asking.

And Bayer tells me it’s perfectly safe for earthworms.  But doesn’t the European Food Safety Authority list that there aren’t enough long term studies for earthworms? And Bayer could only give me the results of a 14 day trial.  Yes, chemical quantities are low, but in my opinion that doesn’t seem long term to me.  Not when the half life for  example, of clothianidin ranges between143 and 1328 days, with an average value of 518 days. That’s a long time………

Since these seeds are about to be used right across NZ in unprecedented quantities wouldn’t it be good to know that an independent kiwi laboratory is looking into this?  Make an investment that ensures we don’t get caught with degraded (crappier) soils?

And weakened/reduced bee populations.  But that is just what some scientists (See the work of Frazier, Alaux, Pettis, Englesdorp to start with), say.  And beekeepers with massive losses like Tom Theobald.

Are you sure farmers don’t want to know about that?

Finally, from what I understand, (but YOU try reading the AVCM Act) chemical companies have to declare the active ingredient on products applied to pasture, if it’s in liquid form.  But if it’s applied to a seed which is then planted in/on the ground, it avoids  the requirement to show the chemical – the active ingredient.

Are kiwi farmers, mushrooms?   It just seems a bit, well, unfair.  Or wrong.

In my opinion, New Zealand needs clear and structured legislation that results in the labeling of all pesticide and plant protection products with the active ingredient/s – helping Kiwi farmers and and giving them the right to access knowledge to help make good long term decisions.

Like the US EPA and Europe’s EFSA.

About Jodie

It is only by questioning and discussing and attempting to view the world our childrens children will live in, that we start to understand that life isn't a linear process - it is a room of dominoes falling. Our world has a lot of special interests and stakeholders that by default, keep science undone, and economics hooked in the 1920's - resulting in governments that don't address the complexity that is challenging our world. From pollution to mental health (and the cost of food) to the health of our freshwater - it's complex and dynamic. What equilibrium do we want to reach - a healthy vital one or a suffering one?
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One Response to Why don’t New Zealand farmers know what systemic insecticide is on their treated ryegrass seeds?

  1. Well said… it did make me think 14 day trials aren't very long. Don't those little old ladies take at least a year to posion their victims – a little arsenic on a biscuit per day? 

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