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Dicamba problem hit the fan but hasn't splattered everywhere — yet

Will the Southeast end this season with few-to-no dicamba problems?

As spring planting gave way to summer weed management, what was feared might happen in some locations happened: In-season dicamba-related problems drew regulatory attention and ire.

By mid-July, dicamba complaints had spread in Missouri and Tennessee, but Arkansas was the hotbed with more than 600 registered complaints filed to the state’s department of agriculture, an unfortunately scaled-up repeat of the problem that took place in the region last year. It appeared the problem was moving into Indiana, Ohio and Illinois as seasonal spraying spread north.

Can there really be no dicabama-related problems in the Southeast this year? There are few-to-no official complaints, but anecdotally there have been some problems, but nothing rising to the level seen in Missouri, Arkansas or Tennessee at this time. Southeast growers appear to be handling in-season dicamba applications properly or privately handling problems, or opting not to use them.

Knowing how things have turned out this season, I remember six months back Rick Keigwin, now the acting director of programs for EPA’s Pesticide Program office, speaking to a packed room at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference in Savannah. Keigwin swings a big stick at EPA, and he reminded those growers in the room that the dicamba registrations have two pertinent time restrictions:

  1. Both Monsanto’s and BASF’s registrations automatically expire in November 2018 unless EPA takes action to renew them. “And what we’re going to be looking at over the next two years is, ‘Are the off-sight drift incidents continuing? To what degree are they continuing? Are they getting worse or are they getting better? Is the magnitude increasing?’” Keigwin said at the time. “And if we determine that that frequency of drift events is unacceptable, they (the registrations) go away.”
  2. If the registrations for new dicamba formulation are renewed in November 2018, they will automatically expire three years later. At that time, EPA again will look at drift incidents and also at where things stand with resistance issues. The registrations go away if things are not acceptable.

The bottom line: If EPA doesn’t take action on either deadline for the dicamba registrations, the registrations go away. “So, we all have to be partners to make sure these products are used the right way so that we don’t have the types of things that happened in the Mid-South (in 2016),” Keigwin said that Friday morning six months ago.

The new herbicide technologies are welcomed by many growers who want better or different tools to fix the problem of unsustainable weed control. But if the new technologies can’t be used without causing emotional or economic damage, maybe the technologies should be pulled from the market in the locations where too many accidents or blatant misuse are taking place. Agriculture in general doesn’t need the bad stigma. But even with the alarming number of dicamba complaints taking place in parts of the Mid-South, you can’t help but know that more growers are doing right by the new technology than wrong. And I’d bet big that by far the majority of growers across the country who choose to use this technology this year will do it responsibly. I like to think stringently investigated facts backed by sound science will guide short-term and long-term regulatory actions on this dicamba matter, regardless of the region of the country. And we hope people (official folk or otherwise) will not let heightened emotions or dogged ideologies exasperate the problem.

What is happening in some locations is unfortunate, but it is happening and the fallout will be the fallout.

Will the Southeast end this season with few-to-no dicamba problems? Fingers are crossed. But if the Southeast by judicious means or passing luck avoids such problems, there should be no dance and spike of the football over it. As one Southeast commissioner of agriculture told me at a field day in July, such an unwise jig can end in an unwanted fall and a spiked football can pop up and bust you in the nose.

Good luck, take care and thanks for reading.

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