The world’s largest agribusiness expects the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to announce a renewal and an updated label for the herbicide dicamba in the coming weeks.
“The expectation is that there will be a decision in the very near future,” says Liam Condon, President for the new Crop Science division of Bayer. “The EPA said they want to make the decision before the next growing season so that that growers have certainty.”
The weed system was authorized initially for two years by EPA. That authorization runs out in November. The agency must decide whether to extend its use and whether to make changes to how and when it can be used.
Following high drift and volatility complains in 2017, Bayer claims those numbers are lower this season thanks to mandatory training and spraying restrictions.
“We knew that training was key,” says Bob Reiter, new head of Research and Development for the Crop Science division of Bayer. “Helping growers to use the product in the right way makes all the difference in the world.”
Bayer says dicamba tolerant crops covered 50 million acres in the U.S. this season. Calling it a success, they anticipate the number to continue climbing in 2019.
According to Bayer, by August this season there were 13 complaints per million acres of seed. That compares to 99 per million acres last year.
According to Dr. Kevin Bradley, professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri, state departments of agriculture were investigating 605 reports of dicamba-related injury as of mid-July. That compares to 1,411 complaints at the same time last year. University researchers estimate the 2018 complaints involve 1.1 million acres.
“I think the EPA has said all along that they clearly see the importance of our product,” says Condon. “Probably the discussion is more about how to use this and we're expecting this decision imminently like in the next few weeks.”
Not all of agriculture is rallying behind the technology. Beck’s Hybrids has recently taken the position that dicamba should only be allowed as a pre-plant application. It says the controversy has the potential to do more harm than good.
“First, we’re concerned if drift and volatilization continues, farmers will say ‘I can’t use any other technology [besides Roundup Ready 2 Xtend] because dicamba could drift onto my field and crinkle leaves—potentially reducing yield,’” says Kevin Cavanaugh, Beck’s director of research. “Therefore it forces them to one technology, and when we force them to one technology we get really concerned about weed resistance.”
But Reiter says farmers are demanding dicamba for weed management and to fight resistance.
“We have 97% of our growers telling us they had excellent weed control,” says Reiter. “The demand and need for the system is clear and we're going to see more growth for the system next year.”
While Bayer executives say 2018 should speak for itself in terms results, ultimately the decision will be made in Washington.
“You never want to preempt the regulatory decision or be in a position that you're putting words in regulators’ mouth,” says Condon. “Of course, we as the owner have an expectation but that in all honesty is irrelevant in the process. The EPA is the one who makes the decision.”