Dicamba has damaged more than 3.6 million acres of soybean crops, or about 4 percent of all soybeans planted in the US this year
EXCERPT: Reuben Baris, the acting chief of the herbicides branch of the EPA … suggested the number of complaints understated the problem because most incidents went unreported. He estimated the actual number of damage incidents could be five times greater than the Missouri researchers found.
Crops in 25 states damaged by unintended drift of weed killer
New York Times, 1 Nov 2017
A weed killer called dicamba has damaged more than 3.6 million acres of soybean crops, or about 4 percent of all soybeans planted in the United States this year, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday in calling for an urgent federal response.
“It is not often that we hear about impacts of this magnitude,” said Rick P. Keigwin Jr., the director of the E.P.A.’s pesticide program.
Dicamba has been used starting this year on genetically modified soybean and cotton crops that are grown from seeds created to be tolerant to weed killers. The problem is that the herbicide can drift off the fields where it is being applied, landing on nearby farms where conventional soybean seeds have been planted.
The damage estimates were presented during a meeting Wednesday called by the E.P.A. and attended by pesticide manufacturers, state agriculture officials, farmer groups and environmentalists.
The research, compiled by a University of Missouri plant sciences professor, Kevin Bradley, found that damage complaints have been filed in more than two dozen states. Most of the complaints were related to soybeans, but the drift has also caused damage to other crops, including tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, vineyards, pumpkins, organic vegetables, residential gardens, trees and shrubs, the researchers found.
The first problems emerged this spring, when reports began to flood state agricultural offices. In an effort to limit the damage, the E.P.A. announced last month that new instructions about how to apply the herbicide would be sent to farmers nationwide for use next year.
Monsanto, BASF and DuPont — the three companies that sell the dicamba formulations causing the problems — have signed off on the new instructions, which prohibit application of the herbicide when winds are greater than 10 miles an hour. Farmers will also be required to take additional steps to clean up tanks where the herbicide is stored to make sure contamination does not result when the same equipment is used on conventional fields.
Dicamba has been used in the United States since the late 1960s. But late last year, it was approved for the first time for “over the top” application, meaning spraying it on fields after the soybeans are already growing, instead of before they sprout.
Genetically modified soybean seeds were designed by biotech firms to be resistant to dicamba, allowing it to be applied to kill weeds later in the growing season.
Reuben Baris, the acting chief of the herbicides branch of the E.P.A., said that 2,708 complaints had been reported to state agriculture officials about dicamba crop damage as of mid-October. They came from 25 of the 34 states where the “over the top” application is approved for use. The largest number of complaints were filed in Arkansas, where there were 986 incidents, and Missouri, which had 310.
Mr. Baris suggested the number of complaints understated the problem because most incidents went unreported. He estimated the actual number of damage incidents could be five times greater than the Missouri researchers found.
“It is an extremely high profile and significant situation,” Mr. Baris said, calling the crop damage that has occurred “unacceptable.”
The agency is still awaiting data on how the problem has affected soybean crop yields.
The E.P.A., when it approved the “over the top” use of dicamba, notified the three manufactures that they would have to secure new approval of its use after two years. And Mr. Baris and Mr. Keigwin made clear on Wednesday that approval might be in jeopardy if the measures being taken for the next growing season did not significantly reduce the scope of the drift damage.
Sale of genetically modified seeds and related herbicides is worth tens of millions of dollars to these companies, which have already faced challenges as weeds have been growing resistant to another popular herbicide they sell, glyphosate.
An estimated 22 million acres of soybean crops were planted with G.M.O. seeds and treated with the “over the top” approach this year, out of the total estimated 89.5 million acres of soybeans planted nationwide.
Some pesticide industry officials question whether the 3.6 million acre estimate represents the total number of acres for any farm that has even a small amount of damage, meaning actual crop damage might be much smaller.
Several state officials asked E.P.A. officials at the Wednesday meeting how the agency would evaluate the extent of the dicamba drift problem at the end of 2018 growing season, and determine whether the corrective measures had gone far enough. Arkansas state officials have already moved toward banning the use of dicamba because of the crop damage in their state this year, though the pesticide companies are challenging that effort.
Jay Vroom, chief executive of CropLife America, which represents the major pesticide manufacturers and who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he was confident the industry would successfully address the problem in the coming year.
“It is more in the manageable category,” he said.
Cynthia Palmer of the American Bird Conservancy, which is a member of an E.P.A. pesticide advisory committee, said farmers who did not use the genetically modified soybean seeds were being hurt.
“It seems like farmers have no choice but to buy dicamba-resistent seeds from Monsanto,” she said, endorsing the moves the E.P.A. has taken to control the problem. “I sure hope it works in the next growing season.”