Canadian farmers may need to follow the lead of producers in North Dakota if they want to preserve their right to use modern agricultural technology such as seed treatments.
The state passed a right-to-farm amendment to its constitution in 2012 that enshrines a producer’s right to use scientifically proven agricultural practices.
“It’s going to give us a big leg up on special interest groups that come in from outside and want to tell us what to do and what not to do,” North Dakota Farm Bureau president Doyle Johannes said shortly after voters in the state approved the amendment in a ballot initiative.
“They’re not going to stop. That was the big thing, to beat these people back. We don’t need outsiders coming here and telling us how to do things.”
North Dakota Farm Bureau executive vice-president Jeff Missling said neonicotinoid seed treatments are an example of a scientifically approved practice that activist groups would like to eliminate.
The Ontario government announced Nov. 25 that it plans to cut the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments by 80 percent on corn and soybeans. Provincial officials said the reductions are necessary because the insecticides are a threat to pollinators and the broader ecosystem.
Grain Farmers of Ontario and other agricultural groups have said the policy is outrageous and unscientific.
Barry Senft, GFO’s chief executive officer, said environmental groups had a disproportionate influence on the government’s decision.
The David Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Club of Canada helped lead the campaign against neonicotinoid seed treatments in Ontario.
Missling said the Ontario decision is a classic case of activists meddling in agricultural practices.
“Your (Ontario) example is so appropriate because we see things happening every day to our industry,” Missling said from his office in Fargo, N.D.
“Challenges to the use of modern technologies that have been proven and have been tested.”
Missling said North Dakota’s constitutional amendment doesn’t provide absolute protection for producers. An environmental group or animal rights organization that wanted to test its validity would have to initiate a campaign to alter a farm practice in North Dakota.
“It would have to be challenged in the court system for it to have any teeth,” Missling said.
“We hope the language is strong enough to address issues like (neonics), but ultimately it will take a lawsuit to prove that one day.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney said activist groups might claim they are acting in the public’s interest, but typically that’s not their goal.
“It seems like they are motivated more by changing the method of agricultural production for crops and livestock,” he said.
“They have some reminiscent image of agriculture that doesn’t exist anymore…. These activists’ goal of taking us back to that is not only regressive for farmers … but it has ripples through our whole economy.”
Missling said he’s received inquiries from agricultural groups in other states that would like to follow North Dakota’s lead.
Missouri voters approved a similar constitutional amendment ensuring producers “right to farm” earlier this year.
“It would not surprise me at all if Canadian producers got together… and tried to put together some protection,” Missling said.
“The resounding theme I continue to hear is that these regulations are coming at us more rapidly than ever before. And they’re coming at us from angles we’ve never seen before.”
Missling said the pressure on agriculture is not going to abate. Farmers in places such as Montana or Manitoba should not feel safe just because they are thousands of kilometres from major cities.
“North Dakota is one of the more desolate (and rural) states in the United States,” he said.
“But even a state like ours continues to be under attack. We’re having meetings next week with government agencies galore to try and solve some issues…. Just because you have a more (isolated) setting does not mean you’re immune to these attacks.”