WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2017 – EPA has added new conditions for dicamba use in the 2018 growing season in response to widespread damage to soybeans attributed to the herbicide this year. The changes, which were proposed by manufacturers, will allow continued “over the top” use of the herbicide on cotton and soybeans in 34 states.
The dicamba formulations allowed for in-crop use are Monsanto’s Xtendimax with VaporGrip Technology, BASF’s Engenia, and DuPont’s FeXapan.
The key changes, EPA said, include:
- Classifying the products as "restricted use," permitting only certified applicators with special training and those under their supervision to apply them;
- Dicamba-specific training for all certified applicators to reinforce proper use;
- Requiring farmers to maintain specific records regarding the use of these products to improve compliance with label restrictions;
- Limiting applications to when maximum wind speeds are below 10 mph (from 15 mph) to reduce potential spray drift;
- Reducing the times during the day when applications can occur;
- Including tank clean-out language to prevent cross contamination; and
- Enhancing susceptible crop language and record keeping with sensitive crop registries to increase awareness of risk to especially sensitive crops nearby.
EPA said it held “a series of discussions” where it “sought extensive input from states and USDA cooperative extension agents from across the country, as well as the pesticide manufacturers, on the underlying causes of damage” this year.
“Manufacturers have agreed to a process to get the revised labels into the hands of farmers in time for the 2018 use season,” the agency said. “EPA will monitor the success of these changes to help inform our decision whether to allow the continued ‘over the top’ use of dicamba beyond the 2018 growing season. When EPA registered these products, it set the registrations to expire in two years to allow EPA to change the registration, if necessary.”
States have reported that more than 3.1 million acres of soybeans were damaged by dicamba this year, and Arkansas is considering not allowing any dicamba use after April 15 next year. University weed scientists have generally cited volatilization as the primary culprit, along with physical drift, spray tank contamination and even illegal use of older dicamba formulations.
Manufacturers of the new formulations, such as Monsanto and BASF, have acknowledged that the new products – while less volatile than the old ones – are still volatile, but have said the situation is more complicated. Monsanto contends that “the main causes of off-target movement” of its XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology “are things like inadequate buffers, unapproved nozzles, and wrong boom height. Importantly, all the reported factors are addressable through training and following the label instructions.”
In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, said in more than 88 percent of cases of off-target movement, the problem arose from not following the label, “as self-reported by those who called us.”
Partridge also said that although there is not “complete uniformity” in the label restrictions among the three dicamba products, there is “significant enough uniformity that I think it will eliminate some of the confusion in the industry about how to properly use these products.”
He said Xtendimax will only be allowed to be applied “from sunrise to sunset,” recognizing that temperature inversions that keep the chemical suspended in the air and subject to drift usually happen in the evening.
Partridge also said that soybean yields are setting records this year, even in Arkansas, the state that fielded the most complaints about dicamba use this year. (Only BASF’s Engenia was allowed to be used in the state.)
The yields, “coupled with new restricted-use pesticide training and education, is going to create the right environment for a successful 2018,” Partridge said.
“We know the overwhelming majority of growers in 2017 using our product had a good experience with weed control as well as on-target application,” Partridge said.
The Center for Biological Diversity, which has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking communications between Monsanto and EPA on the approval of dicamba, criticized EPA’s action.
“This bow to pesticide-makers virtually assures ongoing dicamba drift will continue to damage millions of acres planted by farmers who choose not to plant Monsanto’s crops,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist for the group. “The research is clear that dicamba drift is unbelievably difficult to predict and control, yet the EPA has bought the industry line that the user, not the product, is at fault.”
“EPA’s answer to a dangerous pesticide with a complicated label is to make the label even more complicated,” Donley continued. “We need leadership right now, not negotiations with the same companies that have been trying to blame farmers for their products’ problems.”
Xtendimax is used to kill weeds such as Palmer amaranth (pigweed) that have become increasingly difficult to control because of resistance to Roundup, Monsanto’s glyphosate formulation. Monsanto said that dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton were planted on more than 26 million acres this year, and it expects the number to be much higher next year.
Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed scientist whose test results have shown dicamba remains in the air following application for as many as four days, said "hope springs eternal" when asked whether the new restrictions will adequately address the problems growers faced this year. But he also said that some states, such as Missouri and Tennessee, had already imposed similar requirements.
"This was the first step," he said of the new label requirements. "Now each state department of agriculture will look and see whether that's acceptable for them." In Missouri, the new label requirements "won't make much difference for us because we had similar requirements in place during the latter half of last season." As to training, "It can't hurt," Bradley said, but "just about every state did some kind of training."
Monsanto said it would be “taking a variety of steps to help customers use Xtendimax successfully in 2018” beyond the label changes, including tailoring its training based on what it has learned this year; working with its subsidiary The Climate Corporation “to help farmers more easily identify problematic weather”; distributing Xtendimax-compliant spray nozzles for free; setting up a technical support call center to help customers easily access information on best practices and application requirements; and continuing to offer an incentive of up to $6 per acre when using Xtendimax through Roundup Ready PLUS Crop Management Solutions.
BASF issued a short statement, saying it “worked with the EPA on label updates. We are pleased growers will continue to have access to the benefits of Engenia herbicide and remain committed to providing training and tools for proper application.”
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