By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — If the number of drift complaints in Indiana doesn’t decrease in 2019, the state could make changes to dicamba regulation for 2020, an official with the Office of Indiana State Chemist (OISC) said last month.
In 2018, Indiana received 232 drift complaints involving ground agricultural applications; 146 were dicamba-related. In 2017 – the first growing season in which a new formulation of dicamba was registered by the U.S. EPA – 133 of the 231 drift complaints were related to dicamba.
David Scott, OISC pesticide administrator and secretary for the Indiana Pesticide Review Board, shared the numbers during the board’s Jan. 22 meeting. “It’s probably (OISC’s) opinion if we have a repeat of 2017 and 2018, that’s not acceptable,” he noted. “If we have the same number of drift complaints in 2019, that’s not acceptable and something has to be done.
“Don’t register the product. Put some state restrictions on it.”
The EPA added restrictions to dicamba labels after the 2017 and 2018 growing seasons. For 2018, the agency classified dicamba as restricted-use, requiring mandatory annual training. Detailed recordkeeping was required and applications near downwind sensitive crops were prohibited.
For 2019, the EPA has limited the purchase and use of dicamba to fully certified applicators. It has also forbade application after the R1 growth stage in soybeans or 45 days after planting. The EPA has extended the registration of dicamba until Dec. 20, 2020.
At the state level, Indiana officials classified dicamba as restricted-use before the 2018 growing season. The designation applies to any dicamba-containing pesticide with a concentration greater or equal to 6.5 percent.
The classification requires those purchasing or using dicamba to be certified applicators, and those distributing it to be registered pesticide dealers. OISC also required anyone who purchased or applied dicamba for farm use in the state to attend a training session.
For 2019, Scott said OISC won’t make any additional registration-related changes. It will increase monitoring and investigation intensity of incidents involving tomatoes, vegetables, grapes, melons, gardens, ornamentals, flowers, trees and organic crops.
The office will seek off-target monitoring and reporting assistance from such agencies as the Indiana departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, and from the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University. OISC will also collect information on drift incidents and reports without starting a misuse investigation.
Last fall, the pesticide board established a working group charged with finding ways to lower the state’s drift complaint numbers in 2019. The group recommended a June 20 application cutoff date and downwind setbacks of 1/4 to 1/2 mile when applying near sensitive crops and residential plants. At the time, it was thought such changes could eliminate up to 50 percent of dicamba complaints, Scott said.
After the working group made its recommendations, the OISC consulted with agricultural industry leaders such as Indiana Farm Bureau, the Agribusiness Council of Indiana and Indiana Soybean Alliance. During that time, “apparently something else happened,” he explained.
“I guess the idea that there may be state restrictions that were being considered became part of the public knowledge. Then a letter-writing, phone-call campaign started. I can’t tell you all the ‘love letters’ I got – farmers telling me how I’m a bureaucrat, don’t know anything about what I’m doing and I’m going to put Indiana soybean growers out of business. They didn’t like anything about the working group proposal.”
OISC decided not to follow the working group’s recommendations. During the meeting, board members asked Scott to explain in more detail OISC’s decision regarding the working group.
“This is not what I expected,” Julia Tipton Hogan explained. “I thought the work group was going to come back and give us some very concrete recommendations, which is kind of what has happened historically for every single work group we’ve ever had. Is this politics? I’m assuming it’s small-p politics. It could be big-P politics for all I know.”
Bruce Bordelon said OISC didn’t communicate with working group members after the group made its recommendations.
“We found out that you weren’t going to accept our recommendations, from the news,” he said. “You can see there’s a bit of frustration on the part of the board and the working group in particular as to what happened. We need an explanation for that.”
In response, Scott said he knew what OISC’s position was going to be, “based on the potential political pressure brought to bear. This decision is not occurring in a vacuum,” he added. “There are other things going on with our agency outside of pesticides that’s causing us to ask the question – where is this positioning and political pressure coming from?”
There would still have been too many drift complaints even with a 50 percent reduction, he said.
“If we can only cut by 50 (percent) and that’s our measure of success, if you’re weighing that against political capital for another issue, or long-term cooperation from industries that we’ve historically worked fairly well with, is that worth it for a 50 percent improvement? That was part of the calculation.”
Steve Smith, chair of the Save Our Crops Coalition and director of agriculture for Elwood-based Red Gold, told the board, “I want to be non-subtle here: The time for political correctness is over. If it’s your 50 percent that did not get hit after June 20, it’s pretty darn important.
“If the 50 percent after June 20 was one of my fields, it’s not a yield loss of 10 percent or 20 percent. It’s a yield loss of 100 percent, because there’s no residue tolerance in food crops.”