Reprinted with permission from an email update sent March 26, 2019 by Steve Smith, Senior Director of Agriculture for Red Gold and Chairman of the Save Our Crops Coalition. Links and photos added by Hygeia. For background on the dicamba drift crisis, see our Special Coverage.
Updates are coming fewer and farther between as the reregistration decision for dicamba on Halloween (a very fitting date for that type of scary decision) essentially closes the door on debate for another two years. That horse is out of the barn, so there is little on the national front with EPA that can be done to change our direction. But here are some thoughts about where we are and where we might be headed.
- Millions of acres of damage has occurred over the last three years due to dicamba moving off-target.
- Arkansas reduced their damage significantly by limiting applications beyond April 15th, but for 2019, will relax that date to make sure more dicamba gets applied during hotter weather and when most sensitive plants are fully exposed. And this will improve the situation, how????
- EPA is discussing restricting the ability of states by considering not allowing 24 C state labels that restrict applications further than the federal label.
- While dicamba has always been labeled for use on corn, new genetics in corn will make it even more accepting of the product to be used with less crop injury. With more DT [dicamba tolerant] beans, more will be used on corn because some of the injury concerns have been reduced/removed and total acreage of use will continue to climb.
- Estimates are that DT bean acreage will expand to 60 million acres or beyond.
- Off-target movements are still claimed to be the fault of applicators, not the product, even though the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association survey of applicators suggests strongly that many problems were observed where ALL label restrictions were followed. The Indiana State Chemist reports that in about 80% of their cases, they could not determine the mode of movement that caused the damage.
- Urban tree injury is being documented where no applications have taken place in the immediate area.
- There is still no residue tolerance on food crops endangering supplies of fruits and vegetable and particularly organic production.
- New label restrictions have done nothing in regards to volatility. Volatility is like the crazy Uncle you keep locked up in the closet. You know he’s in there, just no one wants to acknowledge the situation.
- Weed resistance to dicamba has already begun to occur.
I don’t know about you, but if I were a prosecutor, I would take a look at these facts and have a pretty clear case that we have lost our collective minds in renewing the registration for in-crop use of dicamba. One would think you could easily prosecute a case to restrict usage to reduce the exposure to sensitive crops, rural home landscapes, pollinator habitats and trees but alas, that wisdom doesn’t appear to be commonly accepted.
The future is never a clear and easy picture to predict but here are my thoughts for the upcoming season and beyond.
- As DT bean usage increases, the number of sensitive soybean acres also goes down. The resulting exposure to injury is reduced and it is likely the number of claims to regulatory agencies could go lower because bean injuries was the main driver behind numbers of complaints and acres of damage. These agencies are likely to misinterpret the reduction in claims as an indication of the success of newer label restrictions. In actuality, they will be the result of fewer susceptible soybean acres.
- Exposure to injuries of sensitive plants will increase simply because of the increased volume of dicamba being used.
- Atmospheric loading, a term rejected by promoters of dicamba, will increase causing injuries where there was no dicamba applied close by. Some excellent work was done by a man named Louis Nelms in Illinois documenting damage to trees where the closest applications were a half mile away or more. http://ill-inps.org/central-chapter-videos/ The video (see below) is a little long but it is well worth watching as it clearly explains the threat to native trees.
- The “circus” in Arkansas has begun the process of consumers and the general public in recognizing the dangers of dicamba. It won’t be long before this movement becomes more mainstream and agriculture will have lost its long held place of trust and status as good partners in the wider context of community responsibility. I have used the term the “black eye” of agriculture and unfortunately it has been prophetic.
- Many rural homeowners will see damage to their trees and have NO idea of what has happened or why and will not know to report the injury to the appropriate agency so the full effects will be under reported.
There are no doubt many more unforeseen results that will happen with the increased exposure. In an ironic twist of fate, my own home was hit with dicamba damage last summer and I now have no fruit trees left and have lost two very old shade trees and several oak trees will probably need replaced also. Had I not been personally familiar with the injury symptoms and knew the signs of what happened, I would have been unable to recover my losses. My damage exceeded $9,000 but that does not include the loss of our own fruit and enjoyment of our landscape for several years until replacements are grown. As the commercial says, peach, apple and pear trees, $200 each, loss of our ambiance around home…priceless.
As we approach the 2019 spray season, all we can do is to keep a watchful eye out for signs of injury and report them to the appropriate agency so the damages might be more fully quantified. Otherwise we will be hearing how wonderfully the new restrictions and training worked in reducing claims when what really happened was the damage shifted from soybeans to other sensitive plants. Do not be bashful about reporting problems to your local extension agents or state agencies. Do not be bashful about recovering damages. One ultimate method of controlling the problem is to make the financial and economic risks so high that applicators will decide the risk is not worth the reward.
As a coalition, the Save Our Crops Coalition, SOCC, will continue to monitor 2019 and continue advocating with EPA for residue tolerance allowances to reduce the economic losses to producers when problems do occur and with state agencies when appropriate for comments or information. The first of the lawsuits against manufacturers will begin this fall and will have an important bearing upon the wisdom of continuing the use of a product known to be dangerous in the environment. I again thank all of you for your interest and continued support and ask that you let me know what is happening in your areas to be able to better advocate for your interests.
For more current updates news, follow me on twitter @smifarsmith.
Chairman, Save Our Crops Coalition