Dicamba applications on soybean and cotton will come with a cutoff date next year and require larger buffer zones to avoid off-target drift, the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday in approving new five-year registrations for the herbicides.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who announced the decision at a cotton farm in rural Georgia Tuesday afternoon, said on a call with reporters the new conditions should make the decision legally defensible. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit vacated the registrations of Bayer's Xtendimax, BASF's Engenia, and Corteva's FeXapan, which is the same formulation as Xtendimax. EPA said its latest decision applies to Xtendimax with VaporGrip technology, Engenia and Syngenta's dicamba product, Tavium.

The new cutoff date for applications on dicamba-tolerant soybeans will be June 30; the new cutoff date for cotton will be July 30. EPA also is expanding the downwind buffer zone from 110 feet to 240 feet and establishing an endangered species buffer of 310 feet in counties where endangered species may be present. 

In addition, Wheeler said "an approved pH buffering agent will be required to be mixed with dicamba products prior to all applications to lower volatility."

He said the agency had reviewed "significant amounts" of new scientific information and said he believes the new restrictions and conditions are "responsive to the court's concerns." Under the new labels, EPA said in a news release, "there are opportunities for growers to reduce the downwind spray buffer for soybeans through use of certain approved hooded sprayers as an alternative control method."

Wheeler and a senior EPA official on the call said the agency would work with states if they want to further expand or restrict dicamba use, but states will not be able to impose restrictions without going through a more cumbersome process. The agency's press release says only "if a state wishes to expand the federal [over the top] uses of dicamba to better meet special local needs, the agency will work with them to support their goals."

In June, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the registrations of three dicamba herbicides — Bayer's Xtendimax, BASF's Engenia and Corteva's FeXapan — after finding EPA substantially understated or failed to consider the social and economic costs.

The new dicamba formulations have been controversial since they were approved for use for the 2017 growing season, and then reapproved for two years at the end of 2018. Millions of acres of damage to soybeans and other crops have been attributed to drift and volatilization of the herbicide.

Earlier this year, Bayer agreed to pay $400 million to settle damage complaints.

Reaction to EPA's decision was swift from both ag organizations and the environmental groups that sued and won in the 9th Circuit.

Bayer also was pleased. “We welcome the EPA’s science-based review and registration decision providing growers access to this important tool,” Lisa Safarian, president of Bayer Crop Science North America, said. “Growers need options, and we are proud of our role in bringing innovations like XtendiMax herbicide forward to help growers safely and successfully protect their crops from tough-to-control weeds.”

The National Cotton Council said it will be taking a close look at the label to make sure the herbicide "can be effectively utilized in controlling weeds without undue restrictions."

NCC Chairman Kent Fountain, a Georgia cotton producer and ginner, "noted that research conducted prior to availability of dicamba-tolerant varieties reported a minimum 50 percent yield-loss in fields with resistant pigweed,” NCC said in a short press statement.

“The economic damage that would result from not being able to use dicamba herbicides would be tremendous," Fountain said. "We greatly appreciate EPA's timely issuance of a new five-year label for this critical crop protection product for cotton producers."

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, who was on hand for the announcement, told Agri-Pulse EPA's decision brings certainty for farmers for five years, and said, "When this product is used correctly, especially now with some additional restrictions on it, it's going to prove out to not damage crops.”

The American Soybean Association said dicamba "is one of many tools integral to the success of soy growers who face different crop production challenges throughout a diverse growing region spanning 30-plus states." And ASA President Bill Gordon, a soybean farmer from Worthington, Minn., said, “We rely in great part on EPA support for the continued success of our industry, from measures encouraging biodiesel
market expansion to these types of decisions regarding safe and effective use of crop protection tools. We thank EPA today for the many steps and time invested in coming to this decision to reregister a product relied upon by many soy growers.”

On the other side of the issue, George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, said “rather than evaluating and addressing the significant costs of dicamba drift as the 9th Circuit told them the law required, EPA has rushed re-approval as a political prop just before the election, sentencing farmers and the environment to another five years of unacceptable damage. We will most certainly challenge these unlawful approvals.”

And Nathan Donley, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Given EPA-approved versions of dicamba have already damaged millions of U.S. acres of crops and natural areas, there’s no reason to trust that the agency got it right this time. As the judges who tossed out the EPA’s previous approval stated, the agency wrongly dismissed many of dicamba’s proven harms. At this point, the EPA has shown such callous indifference to the damage dicamba has caused to farmers and wildlife alike, and has been so desperate to appease the pesticide industry, it has zero credibility when it comes to pesticide safety.”

In its decision, the 9th Circuit said when EPA granted conditional registrations in October 2018, the agency “underestimated by as much as 25 percent the amount of DT [dicamba-tolerant] soybeans planted and, commensurately, the amount of dicamba herbicides applied in 2018,” which caused more than 1 million acres of damage in 18 states, the court said in its 56-page decision.

The court decision left growers confused, and five days after it was issued EPA came out with a cancellation order that allowed growers and commercial applicators to continue to use existing stocks until July 31.

The environmental groups that had won the court case sought an order from the 9th Circuit halting continued use, but were unsuccessful. In addition to the Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, those groups include the National Family Farm Coalition and Pesticide Action North America.

In August, the court also turned down Bayer, BASF and Corteva’s request to have the case reheard.

For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com.