“The Birds and the Bees Protection Act” threatens climate-smart agricultural practices

By Eric Ooms | April 24, 2023

If you’ve ever wanted to see the expression “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” play out in real life, look no further than Albany’s actions on climate change.

On one hand, there’s strong support for the work being done to address climate change. At the same time, the other hand is pursuing legislation that if passed into law will directly lead to an increase in carbon emissions, eliminate tools that play a crucial role in climate smart practices and would negatively impact a critical sector of the states’ economy–agriculture.

S. 1856/A. 3226 also known as “The Birds and the Bees Protection Act” does nothing to address the actual threats facing pollinators but does threaten climate-smart agricultural practices that New York farmers have already adopted and will likely limit or completely eliminate adoption in the future. This flawed legislation bans the latest advancements in agricultural technology that are catalysts to climate-smart ag practices that improve soil health and sequester carbon.

This legislation would ban the use of neonicotinoid (neonic) treated seeds, and neonics used in non-agricultural settings like those for turfgrass, ornamental shrubs and grasses, and on golf courses and other landscapes.

As a farmer, this is extremely problematic. Treated seeds are used in some of the most popular and profitable crops that we grow in New York. Prohibiting these uses for corn, soy, and wheat seeds would be detrimental. New York dairies rely on our corn crop to sustain their dairy cows. Frankly, seed treatments allow farmers to use much less pesticide products on their farms. It would be challenging for some farms to absorb the increased costs that would come with a ban, including spending more for added pesticides and fuel that come with returning to more traditional planting practices. .

The growing season in New York has always been a challenge that has only grown more complicated in recent years. As we navigate a changing climate, the threat of pest pressures and unpredictable weather is real. Having access to these tools as part of our integrated pest management programs and best management plans is essential in combating early pest pressures and plant disease as well as ensuring maximum yield of our crops.

Years of research and testing and scientific achievements have brought us to where we are today—having access to agricultural products like treated seeds that are safer for the environment and humans and offer protections in the earliest stages of crop growth—the time when our seeds and plants are most susceptible to failures from both weather and pests.

A prohibition on the use of these products could force farmers to revert to using older, less effective products on a more frequent basis and would eliminate some of the newer growing strategies farms in New York have been able to adopt thanks to these types of pest management tools.

Climate-smart agriculture, made possible by pesticides, is essential to sequestering greenhouse gases, and preserving native habitats. As evidenced by recent, preliminary Cornell research, without the use of these products, crop yields could drop some 30 percent, with an increased need of additional farmland increasing. Innovative pesticide products are key to unlocking and expanding the enormous climate-mitigation potential of agriculture. Clearly, more work needs to be done to study the specific impacts to New York farmers by the removal of the use of seed treatments in our state. Acting prematurely with a ban could be devastating to the food system.

Who more than farmers have an interest in the health of our pollinators? Pollinators make our farms work. Globally, about 75% of flowering plants and approximately 35% of food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. Many farmers are beekeepers themselves or work closely with apiarists during growing seasons. And despite what those who want to see this legislation passed say, bee populations are increasing—not declining according to reporting from the USDA. New York also has a robust Pollinator Protection Plan that is a national model for the thoughtful and stakeholder engaged work they continue to do to improve pollinator health in the state.

I am proud of our farm, the latest technology we use, and bringing fresh food to my family and New York. These technologies are regulated to be used safely both before coming to market and on an ongoing basis. Beyond the work that scientists and regulators at EPA due to ensure product safety, New York has an added layer of oversight through the work of the Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC is made up of some of the most well-respected scientist in the country, and we’re lucky that they have dedicated their careers to helping farmers have access to the tools we need to continue to grow crops. We need to let them do their jobs and rely on their expertise to guide our decision making. Leaving this to politics and emotion has the real possibility of harming farmers, accessibility to food, and the state’s agricultural economy. I call on lawmakers to reject S. 1856/A. 3226 and put the future of farming first.

Eric Ooms is Vice President of the New York Farm Bureau and dairy farmer.

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