Ontario is moving ahead with new regulations to dramatically reduce the number of acres planted with corn and soybean seeds coated with a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are toxic to bees.

Close to 100 per cent of Ontario's corn seeds and about 60 per cent of soybean seeds are treated with neonicotinoids, figures the province wants to reduce by 80 per cent in just two years.

For the 2016 planting season, farmers will be able to use the pesticide-treated seeds on up to 50 per cent of their corn and soybean crops, but must prove they have a pest problem before using any additional neonicotinoids.

Starting in the 2017 planting season, farmers must complete a pest assessment report to prove they need the neonicotinoids before any use will be allowed.

The Ontario Beekeepers Association praised the government "for having the courage to act in the face of intensive lobbying and pressure from the AgChem industry seeking to protect their profits."

Environmental groups including Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation also applauded Ontario's move to regulate the use of neonicotinoids to help protect bees, birds and other pollinators.

Neonicotinoids are nicotine-based insecticides that contain neurotoxins that make all parts of the plant harmful to insects feeding on them, don't break down quickly in soil, and can be transported by run-off from fields to rivers and lakes.

The province's plans, first announced last November, were initially met with skepticism by the Grain Farmers of Ontario, which immediately issued a release claiming that the province's grain farmers are "under attack" and that an 80 per cent restriction amounts to a "total ban on the product."

Neonicotinoid pesticides were already banned by the European Union. An outright ban in Canada would have to be issued by Health Canada. 

With files from CBC News