Responsible use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in vacuum planted field crops

Principal Investigator

Art W. Schaafsma & Jocelyn Smith

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA)

This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.

Project Start

April 2014

Project End

October 2017


  • Determine the key early season insect pests in Ontario grain production (corn, soybeans, and wheat) including identification to species and understanding of their distribution throughout the province.
  • Develop early season insect pest risk assessment tools.
  • Measure the economic impact of neonicotinoid seed treatments for early season pest control in Ontario grain production.


  • The reduction of unnecessary use of neonicotinoid seed treatments will lower production costs and increase economic competitiveness for growers, strengthen relationships with trade and marketing partners, and reduce negative environmental impacts.
  • The improved understanding of the key soil insect pest species in Ontario grain production, their distribution, and factors contributing to their incidence will be used to improve integrated pest management strategies for Ontario grain producers.

Scientific Summary

Insecticide contaminated dust generated from pneumatic (vacuum) planters during spring planting of neonicotinoid-treated corn seed has been identified by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) as the likely cause of several acute honey bee death incidents in Ontario during the spring of 2012 and 2013. In an effort to mitigate these problems a study was initiated in southern Ontario, Canada in April 2013. Our research in 2013 quantified neonicotinoid residues occurring:

  • in dust exhausted from pneumatic planters,
  • in air downwind from the planters,
  • in soil and water taken from the subject fields,
  • in pollen collected by bees,
  • in dead bees from nearby apiaries, and finally
  • from fresh corn pollen and dandelion blooms collected in the subject fields.

It is clear that growers need to implement a combination of measures to prevent neonicotinoid contaminated planter dust and soil from leaving the field to reduce exposure of honey bees.

This project also seeks to evaluate the economic importance of neonicotinoid seed treatments to grain production in Ontario. The goal of this project is to provide a science-based context from which Ontario grain producers can make informed decisions regarding the responsible use of neonicotinoid seed treatments and reduce the risk of exposure of pollinating insects to these insecticides. Field trials comparing seeds treated with and without neonicotinoids will be coordinated on farms throughout the province of Ontario over four years. These trials will be used to survey for the identification and abundance of key early season pests. Data on soil type, cropping systems, and management practices will be collected from study participants and used to develop a risk prediction model and map tool for growers to utilize when making integrated pest management decisions. The economic value of neonicotinoids will be evaluated based on yield data collected from these trials, compared with insect incidence, distribution and severity data.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.