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Canola, chemicals and bees: Why Canadian farmers are fighting a proposed pesticide ban

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Health Canada is following in the European Union’s footsteps as it moves to ban the use of neonic pesticides due to concerns about their impact on bees and other wildlife. But many farmers are fighting to maintain the status quo.

Canola growers, in particular, say the ban would increase costs and put their crops at risk of being lost to flea beetles. They say other types of pesticides are not as effective and therefore require higher volumes to be applied to crops.

“The alternatives are worse — worse for the environment, worse for farmers who are applying it, and just substandard in every way,” said Renn Breitkreuz, chairman of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.

Scientific research has shown neonicotinoids, commonly known as neonics, are harmful to a variety of aquatic life and insects, such as bees, which is why the EU banned the outdoor use of the pesticides last April.

In August, Health Canada proposed a ban on neonics that would phase out the chemicals in the next three to five years.

When Health Canada asked for public feedback in the fall, canola farmers obliged with letters detailing their concerns. 

Farmers coat seeds with neonics before they are planted. The chemical protects the canola crop from pests as the plants begin to grow.

“To be blunt, we’re puzzled why they would want to remove these products from our toolkit,” said Breitkreuz, who farms near Onoway, Alta., about 50 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

Breitkreuz said neonics are safe for farmers to handle, have little impact on the environment and are very effective in controlling pests.

Renn Breitkreuz, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, says it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to allow the use of neonics. (CBC)

Farmers are concerned about the research Health Canada relied on to make its decision. They say the science included faulty assumptions and relied on small sample sizes. As a result, some farmers in Western Canada are collecting their own water-monitoring data to submit to the federal government.

Rick White, chief executive of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, says the issue is important because neonics are “a very efficient, effective and targeted way of dealing with pests, which can wipe out an entire canola crop in just a number of days.”

However, the EU decided neonics do more harm than good.

The EU began restricting use of the pesticides in 2013 because scientific studies had long linked them to the decline of bees and other pollinators. In 2018, the EU voted for a ban on all outdoor use and to only permit application in sealed greenhouses.

Last year, more than 240 scientists from Canada and around the world signed an open letter calling for restrictions on neonics.

Scientific studies have shown neonics damage the ability of a variety of bees to reproduce.

‘Solid research’

Some of the research was conducted by Amro Zayed, a biologist at York University in Toronto. His team carried out a long-term study examining colonies located near and far away from cornfields. They observed negative effects on the colonies that came in contact with the pesticide, including queen and worker honeybees with shorter life spans.

“From my perspective, we’ve done really solid research on this,” Zayed said. “We clearly demonstrated that in Ontario and Quebec, exposure to these chemicals has negative consequences on bee health.”

Scientists have welcomed Health Canada’s proposed ban because of their serious concerns about the harmful effects of neonics on bees, butterflies and aquatic organisms. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Studies have also linked neonics to death and reproductive problems in birds and wild turkeys.

Canola farmers say their use of neonics has a smaller impact on the environment than other pesticides because the seeds are injected into the ground, so the pesticide is less likely to spread in the air.

Middle ground?

Instead of a ban, Rick White of the Canadian Canola Growers Association said it’s possible Health Canada and farmers could find some middle ground and agree on a mitigation strategy, with directions for how and where neonics can be used to treat seeds.

“There may be ways to minimize the problem, if there is a problem,” he said.

Health Canada declined CBC’s interview request. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said a final decision about the proposed ban will come later this year.

“We have completed the scientific review work related to pollinators and anticipate publishing the results of the review and decision in spring 2019,” said Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge.

Additional data and stakeholder feedback on the protection of aquatic insects is also being reviewed by Health Canada.

In 2015, the Ontario government put some restrictions on the use of neonics.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found neonics offer no yield benefits to soy crops typically treated with the chemicals.

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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