Greenhouse Canada

Inside View: Is it time to level the pesticide playing field?

September 15, 2023  By Gary Jones

One of the renovations we’ve done to our new home was to replace a beaten-up single-glazed wooden French-style patio door with a new energy-efficient sliding door. Upon removing the old frame, to our horror we found a bunch of very lively Carpenter ants making chambers in the wooden surround. So, we tackled them with baits and sprays available from the home hardware store, but with minimal effect. When we called in the professionals, he obviously had access to ‘stronger’ products than I had. These have worked. But this process has taken several months, and the terminator guy was bemoaning the fact that he cannot purchase ‘better’ (his word) pesticides available across the U.S. border. Which is about a mile away from my home. And I’m left with a costly replacement of the beam above the door.

Even our one-man-business terminator guy is feeling the pain of an uneven playing field when it comes to pesticide availability. Talking to growers, they of course are facing this on a much bigger scale. My experience made this issue all the more real. 

Now, I’m not advocating for open-day, free rein on pesticide use. I appreciate being kept safe from toxic chemicals. But the lure of the hardware store I drive past in the U.S. when I go get cheaper gas sure is tempting. Why is any product deemed safe (or unsafe) and therefore available (or not) in two locations when separated, in my case, by just over a mile, just because there is a man-made border between them? At the 50-plus-acre greenhouse scale, even with the very few chemicals used in our IPM systems, any unlevel playing field can sure turn into a big bone of contention.


We hear much these days of local, provincial, and federal governments’ desire to strengthen domestic food security. And so we should. COVID, flooding, port strikes and other turbulent troubles have made this an even more critical issue. And, sure, there have been some moves in the right direction, but doesn’t the unfairness of pesticide availability work against this objective by making it more difficult to provide fresh local secure produce? 

To some extent though, this situation does encourage the development and implementation of all the armour in a complete integrated pest management (IPM) system, and in particular, cultural and bio-control options, for those growers with fewer pesticides available. Of course, chemicals are part of an IPM program, once other options have been considered. But if growers can rely on commonly available options other than pesticides that may or may not be ‘Approved’ for use (or even available to growers), then this must ultimately build a more resilient system and better food security?

Presented by American Hort, Cultivate‘23 offered “160+ education sessions cover all segments of the industry and all aspects of your business.” These were organized into ‘Learning Tracks’, one of which was the ‘Greenhouse track’, comprising 121 educational sessions, and of these, by my reckoning about 20 sessions (17 per cent) were directly related to pest management (all aspects). If this balance reflects growers’/business owners’ priorities for learning, we see how important this subject area is.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’m not aware of bio control agents that are available in the U.S., but not in Canada. Or vice-versa. (Let me know.) So, learning about one of these at an educational session in the U.S. shouldn’t hinder a grower’s application of that learning in Canada. (Or vice-versa, with the Canadian Greenhouse Conference just around the corner.) That may not be entirely true for chemicals though. Unfair competition? Maybe the solution to making the playing field level is not to increase pesticide availability equivalency in Canada compared to everywhere else, but to remove approvals in other jurisdictions. This could create a level playing field, encourage use of non-toxic solutions to pest and disease problems, consider the environment, and help build local food security. Just a thought. It’s not going to happen, of course. But, in the meantime, I’ll just look jealously over the border at my southern neighbours fighting their Carpenter ants.

Gary Jones sits on several greenhouse industry committees in BC and welcomes comments at

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