Dicamba: Where do we go from here?

Experts discuss issues as ag sector moves forward into 2018

-Messenger file photo
These soybeans show off-target damage from dicamba. It is estimated the herbicide caused damage to 3.6 million acres of soybeans in 2017.

-Messenger file photo These soybeans show off-target damage from dicamba. It is estimated the herbicide caused damage to 3.6 million acres of soybeans in 2017.

Dicamba has become one of the most controversial ag topics of the 2017 growing season. Some claim dicamba damage exceeded that of any weather affected problems and because of this, DTN addressed these issues with industry experts during a recent webinar.

Dr. Kevin Bradley, University of Missouri weed scientist gave his insights on regional experiments and best practices to minimize some off–target issues.

“This is a significant problem and there is no way around it,” said Bradley. “The purpose of the webinar is to see how we can move forward. We’ve chosen a technology and herbicide and I don’t know if you could pick a crop that is more sensitive to dicamba than soybeans – besides the Xtend soybeans.”

Bradley said he and his colleagues recognize there has been more damage that happened that wasn’t turned in to the USDA and they tried to capture what damage had occurred, with estimates of 3.5 to 3.6 million acres damaged by dicamba in 2017.

“It’s important with one of the things we struggle with in Missouri. It’s not like anything we have ever seen before,” he said. “Part of the challenge here is getting it in our heads that there is nothing like this and there are very low doses that cause significant visual response to soybeans.”

Bradley said, in Missouri, the problem is bigger than just with soybeans.

“There is something else we are struggling with to get people to realize that 2,700 cases in 3.6 million acres of soybeans is something that really bothers all of us. This is what the Missouri Department of Agriculture is investigating other than soybeans — gardens around fields, other fruits and vegetable farms,” he said. “There are pine trees in Mississippi, sycamore trees in Tennessee — we have had significant problems.”

The damage caused by dicamba, and the issues it has caused beyond crop damage, is something he has never seen before.

“There’s nothing like this in my years of being in agriculture in this fashion where there is such diverseness, and is so divided among farmers,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate because it is hurting rural communities. There have been shootings — people that have had their whole livelihood destroyed because of off-target movement. It is definitely an understatement to say it is a black cloud for our industry, so we have got to figure this out.”

Bradley said he believes there are “four buckets we can put off-target movement into.”

1. Physical drift. “There’s no question we had plenty of physical drift due to wind, improper nozzles, booms being too high and I would throw dust into this category. Those are things that have happened,” said Bradley.

2. Tank contaminations. “Unfortunately, a lot of people have learned the hard way,” he said. “It takes very, very small amounts of dicamba in a commercial sprayer to cause problems on that next field.”

3. Temperature inversions and night time spraying. “We can’t do that and you see that in current labels,” he said.

4. Volatility. “This is where I believe we all have to get on the same page and at least accept there are four methods and volatility is one of them,” he said. “When you see injury on one end of the field to the other, this suggests volatility and I have walked hundreds of these and to say volatility is not an issue is just not consistent in what we are seeing in university research.”

Bradley said there have already been some provisions made to spraying dicamba in Missouri.

“I am curious what is going to be the impact of the new requirements,” he said. “We need more training, I think every person in my position, for the most part, is working on dicamba training right now and everyone is going to be required to take this training and I hope this reduces instances of off-target movement.”

Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, provided a different perspective to the dicamba issue — on how this impacts the commercial applicators and merchandisers.

“We’re the policy people that represent the industry,” she said. “In Illinois, not only do we work for our fertilizer retailers, but also we are the manufactures of the fertilizer and chemicals.”

In early July; Payne said she began receiving calls from ag retailers with their issues.

“It was a long summer for ag retailers,” she said. “This is a serious issue for us in Illinois, I have never seen this level of compliance to the Department of Ag before.”

Payne said as they were receiving calls from retailers, the board of directors from the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association came up with the idea to survey their retailers with confidential feedback.

The survey had a high response rate, with more than 200 responses from major retailers in Illinois.

Payne said they asked the question, “when you applied this product, did you see symptoms to an adjacent soybean field?” Eighty percent of them, according to Payne, said they indeed saw some kind of symptomology in an adjacent soybean field.

A second question, Payne said was, “did you see these symptoms when the wind wasn’t blowing to that adjacent field?”

“This had been a frustrating aspect this summer for ag retailers and a large percentage said there was damage on a field the wind was not blowing to,” she said.

Payne said they also asked the chemical retailers and applicators to rank the factors they believed caused those symptoms.

“Volatility, and they also saw physical drift, inversion, applicator error, tank and sprayer contamination and most impact from corn dicamba application in the early part of the season that caused injury to adjacent soybeans,” she said. “This is an indication that we have a problem with numerous factors to it and how do we address all of these issues? We’re not just going to solve one of these — we need to solve the group cause of all of them.”

Payne said there had been reports claiming injury from dicamba was coming from the herbicide being applied illegally, so they also addressed those claims.

“Survey showed they did not see products being used illegally,” she said. “Ninety percent said no, they do not believe there was illegal use, so that allows us to refocus back on how do we improve the use of these products and let’s spend our energy focusing on how do we improve use of these dicamba products?”

This survey, Payne said, is a testament to the stewardship of the commercial applicators.

“These labels have plenty of restrictions on them,” she said. “There were still 70 percent of our members that put on their own restrictions. If it was too late, they said no. If it was getting close to another field, they said no, or if they were a mile from an orchard, they said no — and none of those things are really on the label.”

Payne said it was because of the increase in stewardship practices from commercial applicators. They saw it as an opportunity to invest in the stewardship perspective.

“We have an industry out there that wants to do the right thing and is willing to do the right things, and how do we support them in that effort,” she said.

Payne said they also decided to ask in the survey “where do we go after 2017?”

“As we move forward, we have got to work together on this,” she said. “I think you saw a tendency over the summer to do a lot of finger pointing and that has to be set aside as we do our training in Illinois for the dicamba label in 2018, I can say that the survey enables us to sit down with registrants and be honest and transparent on what applicators need. They, in turn, have been responsive to us and I am extremely happy with the communication that has been happening now.”

Payne said right now, commercial applicators that had a misuse claim against them are starting to receive their warning or violation letters. In many instances, the soybeans in those particular fields yielded high.

“I will remind people, from a policy standpoint, it doesn’t matter if it damages the crop or not,” she said. “If you are off target, it is a violation of federal and state law and applicators in Illinois, for example, that get these warning letters, they stay on their record.”

These letters come whether was yield damage or not and a commercial applicator, could eventually lose their license because of it.

“We need to address the off-target movement. I hope it is improved, but we all have to be honest with each other and work together on this,” she said.

Communication, she said, is key.

Jay Magnussen, a northwest Iowa agronomist and farmer from the Paullina area also shared his experiences with the dicamba products and what he expects to see them being used in 2018 and beyond.

“This product is not easy to spray,” he said. “I have had very good luck spraying it and farmers have had good luck spraying it, but if you try to cheat with a nighttime spray or pushing it too late in the day or even too early, we’re going to have problems.”

Magnussen said it is definitely not like other herbicides producers are used to spraying.

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