As the CFIA backs away from regulating fertilizer efficacy, Chris Holpzafel recommends that farmers look to third-party research
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will stop regulating efficacy for fertilizers and supplements in April 2013. Whether loosening the regulations will benefit farmers by lowering costs and allowing sellers to bring new products to market quickly, or allow some companies to sell products without backing their claims, remains to be seen.
As an interim measure the CFIA now requires companies to prove fertilizer efficacy using Canadian or foreign trial data, or scientific articles. But the agency expects to amend the regulations in April, dropping all efficacy requirements. Instead the agency will focus on making sure products are safe for humans, animals, plants and the environment.
Bob Friesen applauds Minister Ritz for changing the regulations. He says farmers are business professionals with access to industry experts and a wealth of knowledge.
“And so we believe that farmers are professional enough not to be duped into using what some people have called snake oil kind of tactics,” says Friesen. Friesen is the CEO of Farmers of North America’s Strategic Agriculture Institute, which focuses on research, policy and regulation.
The United States doesn’t require efficacy testing in fertilizer or pesticides. Friesen says it’s a cost competiveness issue.
“You can’t have an integrated industry such as the Canadian-U.S. grains and oilseeds industry, and then have onerous regulations that prevent our farmers from being cost competitive.”
“The point of the matter is that it takes more money. It takes more time. And we know that the disadvantage of the additional time and the additional cost usually accrue back to the farm gate,” says Friesen.
Friesen isn’t concerned about products that may be effective in other regions, but ineffective in Western Canada, being sold here.
“Everybody is aware of that. Farmers themselves are aware of that. So that does not mean that someone is going to try to sell a product in a climate zone or soil zone that doesn’t work because it’s in a different zone,” says Friesen.
Chris Holzapfel is the research manager at the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation. The foundation, based out of Indian Head, Saskatchewan, studies new technology, products and farming practices. Holzapfel says CFIA’s efficacy requirements did ensure fertilizer products worked as intended and placed restrictions on the label claims companies could make.
But most farmers do their homework before spending big bucks on novel products, Holzapfel says. “Ultimately, at the end of the day, will there be much impact? I don’t know.”
Testing new products
“If you want to evaluate that your investment is providing some type of return on investment, (on-farm testing) is the best way to do it, short of having third-party replicated data,” says Holzapfel.
He adds that third-party data isn’t necessarily better than on-farm research, but on-farm research requires commitment.
“Done properly, the results are probably as or more valid. It’s just that you’re limited in the types of data you can collect.”
Yield maps and other technologies allow farmers to test new products themselves. Not everyone can do four or more replications, but Holzapfel says some level of replication is critical.
Holzapfel has developed a guide for farmers evaluating new products through on-farm research. The guide includes worksheets, sample calculations, and illustrations of possible field layouts. Farmers can also download a spreadsheet to statistically analyze the research results. The guide is available at www.iharf.ca/onfarm.php.
Holzapfel says there isn’t any question about previously registered products working. “The question really becomes under what circumstances are we likely to see a benefit?”
Holzapfel thinks many companies realize that farmers want data to see how products work under different systems. As well, most companies that were working with Holzapfel and his colleagues before the regulatory changes were announced are still supporting trials using their products.
“Their feeling is that the market will still demand it so they really have no intentions of changing their research plans, I guess,” says Holzapfel.
Friesen says most companies aren’t going to try selling products that don’t work to farmers.
“Yes, there may be some that try — some fly-by-nighters — but they’re not going to last, number one. And number two, farmers in Canada are not stupid. They’re professionals, they have a wealth of knowledge, and they’re not easily duped into buying something that isn’t going to work.” †