Farmers have been using dicamba over-the-top of soybeans and cotton since 2017, with somewhat mixed reviews. While farmers who use the product rave about its weed-killing prowess, downwind sensitive crop farmers are paying the price in herbicide-damaged crops.
Dicamba is approved through 2020, and this year and next year will weigh heavily on the herbicide’s future. Manufacturers report complaints they’ve received to agencies, and each state government is tallying dicamba-related herbicide complaints, too.
“The first year with dicamba, 2017, we had 246 dicamba-related complaints,” says Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association. “In 2018 we had 330 and in 2019 we’ve had 728 as of now. We’ve used dicamba for 30 years, as a pre-emerge, corn and pasture herbicide, but the big difference now is that we are using it on far more acres and later in the season; very rarely was it used in June and July, so we are still trying to figure out how to manage this product in a post emerge marketplace to reduce symptomology. “
Illinois is showing the most dramatic increase in complaints year-over-year. Manufacturers, BASF, Bayer and Corteva Agriscience, counter with the claim they’ve received fewer formal complaints compared to last year.
“To date, we have received 60 calls about auxin-related symptomology. As an industry, we have to work together to ensure these tools are used according to the label and with respect to our neighbors,” BASF said in a statement to Agweb.
"As of Sept. 25, our call center received a total of 463 off-target movement inquiries, a 35% decrease compared to the 2018 season," Bayer said in a recent report. "That included 160 applicator inquiries and 303 non-applicator inquiries."
Bayer said they've received complaints from 17 states.
What state-filed complaints do for farmers with damage
If you’re one of thousands of farmers who filed complaints with state agencies you might wonder what that means for you. It’s a lengthy process that’s exacerbated with large numbers of complaints, and a process that might not have the outcome you expect.
It can be up to eight months before state inspectors confirm or deny off-target movement was caused by a person.
“If it’s a violation of the label they can determine who it was—but that is very difficult because it could be one applicator or more than one,” Payne says. “They have to be very certain of their findings because if an applicator is to blame, they are issued a violation letter which could include a monetary penalty starting at $750 and up to $10,000 depending on the actions of the applicator and the severity of the damage.”
When applicators get too many letters charging them with off-target movement their license to apply dicamba can be revoked. Inspectors consider date of applications, weather conditions and many additional details to determine the culprit of off-target movement.
“All pesticide labels, and the Illinois Pesticide Act, call for no off-target movement, regardless of yield loss or not,” Payne adds.
Note that fees incurred by applicators from the state don’t go to drift victims, it goes to the state. If you have yield or monetary damages you want covered by the applicator at fault, you have to take the battle to court or work out a recovery payment with the applicator yourself.
*Updated to include specific numbers of complaints from Bayer that weren't available at time of publication.