Other important pesticide compliance issues have been ignored or short-changed
According to the article below, the Office of the Indiana State Chemist (OISC) became bogged down last year investigating a record number of complaints about the herbicide dicamba drifting off-target.
Dicamba is sprayed on GM dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. The trouble is, it drifts and volatilises and ends up damaging large acreages of non-target crops.
If you want to get an appreciation for what's like to be a state pesticide regulator in the age of dicamba, a presentation by Tim Creger, Nebraska Dept of Agriculture, at the annual meeting of the American Association of Pesticide Control Officials gives a taste.
Creger states that in 2017, "NDA staff were quickly overwhelmed by volume of calls" and "Cost of investigating dicamba claims exhausted available funding by July 5". In 2018, he states, "Cost of investigating dicamba claims was still high, and continues to strain resources."
Drift-prone ag herbicide complaints swamp state chemist
The Star Press, Mar 11, 2019
The Office of Indiana State Chemist (OISC) became bogged down last year investigating a record number of complaints about the agricultural herbicide dicamba drifting off target.
So much so that the agency says "other equally or more important pesticide compliance issues … have been ignored or short-changed."
Examples of areas where pesticide inspection, compliance and monitoring have been lax, the agency acknowledges, include:
• School pesticide use
• Golf course application safety
• Protection of bees and other pollinators
• Lawn-care application posting
• Community-wide mosquito control
• Applicator licensing and training
OISC has served primarily as a "dicamba response agency for most of 2017 and 2018," David Scott, the agency's pesticide administrator, told The Star Press.
Dicamba has been widely used on agricultural crops, pastures, turfgrass and other property since 1967, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But historically, most dicamba applications occurred in late winter or early spring for removal of broadleaf weeds prior to crop planting.
Off-target drift complaints skyrocketed after 2016, when EPA first registered dicamba formulations for “over-the-top” use to control weeds in fields of cotton and soybean plants genetically engineered to resist dicamba.
In 2017, OISC investigated 133 dicamba drift complaints, which increased last year to 146 complaints. More than 90 percent of the injury was to fields of soybeans that are not genetically tolerant of the herbicide. Melons, gardens, ornamental trees and tomatoes also have been injured.
The agency told the Indiana Pesticide Review Board in January that it has been successful in levying numerous dicamba-related civil penalties and revoking some applicator certifications — but it has been unsuccessful in significantly reducing the number of incidents through training and enforcement.
In a recent dicamba frequently-asked-questions update, OISC said it can't continue indefinitely to spend an estimated $1.2 million annually investigating dicamba complaints — especially in light of anecdotal reports that the drift isn't causing that much impact on soybean yields in affected fields.
Therefore, the agency says that in 2019 it will focus more of its dicamba investigations on injuries to tomatoes, vegetables, grapes, melons, gardens, ornamentals, flowers, trees and organic crops that might not be marketable if dicamba residues are present.
Less time and money will be spent trying to document with forensic evidence dicamba exposure to soybean fields.
Three dicamba herbicides are approved for use on dicamba-tolerant Indiana soybeans this year: Engenia (the most popular brand), Xtendimax (next most popular), and FeXapan (the least popular).
The complainants in 2018 included Jay County farmers Kurt Theurer and Ray Swingley, whose non-dicamba-tolerant soybean fields experienced cupping and puckering of leaves during July. Soil and vegetation samples were submitted for lab analysis.
An investigation determined that certified applicator Richard Fisher, 6007 N. Randolph County Road 300-E, Winchester, failed to comply with tank-mix restrictions and drift management restrictions on the label for Xtendimax — which he had applied to a target field of dicamba-tolerant soybeans near Theurer's and Swingley's fields.
Fisher did not return a call from The Star Press asking for an interview. He was assessed two civil penalties of $100 each for mixing an unapproved product (the herbicide Mad Dog Plus) with Xtendimax, and not checking DriftWatch before applying the herbicides.
DriftWatch is an online communication tool that allows crop producers, beekeepers and pesticide applicators to work together to protect specialty crops and beehives through mapping programs.
In an interview, Theurer said he filed a complaint with the state chemist to document what happened in case he had a big yield loss in the fall. As it turned out, he sustained only "a little yield loss — five to eight bushels per acre." He estimated 15 to 20 acres of his beans were hit by Xtendimax/Mad Dog Plus.
"I did not press charges or push it," Theurer said. "I'm not around to start any trouble. I'm just against using dicamba in the growing season. Dicamba is a good chemical, but it needs to be used at certain right times, either real early in the spring or in the fall. Because anything it drifts onto it hurts it. It'll even hurt your garden, apple trees and so on."
Theurer said his local Purdue extension educator, Larry Temple, advised him to file the complaint.
Temple was unavailable for comment. But his counterpart in Blackford-Delaware County, Laurynn Thieme, told The Star Press extension offices encourage farmers with injured fields to file complaints "so we can keep track of things." In addition, not following pesticide labels is illegal, she said. "We always want to make sure we're doing it in accordance with the law."
According to Scott, in the past year or so, one extension educator was put in the position of having to decide whether to file a police report of alleged physical threats between an applicator and a complainant.
"Another report alleged long-term friends-farmers that will not speak to one another because a complaint was filed with OISC," Scott went on. "In one OISC investigation, the complainant had allegedly been asked to 'pay for his own buffer' by the neighbor, meaning if the complainant had not wanted dicamba sprayed immediately adjacent to his property, he would have to pay for it."
"There does seem to be an underlying tone of contentiousness surrounding the use of dicamba," Scott said.
"We certainly live in a chemophobic society," said Delaware County soybean grower and seed dealer Joe Russell, doing business as Geoponic. While there is enough information about herbicides on the internet to "scare anyone, in reality it's not bad out there. Perception is different than the reality of using chemicals."
In his 44th year of farming, Russell recalled the old days when "no one worried about drift because it was not an economic issue … I think we're dealing with people being more likely to complain than in the past."
He also downplayed the number of complaints, including only a handful in East Central Indiana, where 80,000 acres to 100,000 acres of land per county is used to grow soybeans. "I think the record is pretty good," he said.
Geoponic's Adam Sieber compared farmers applying pesticides to pharmacists dispensing medicine. Farmers are pretty well-trained in the use of herbicides, especially the new technology, he said.