By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report on dicamba use from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is leaving farmers wondering about the herbicide’s future as an in-season weed abatement tool.
In a Dec. 21 statement, the EPA provided a summary of dicamba-related incident reports from the 2021 growing season obtained from pesticide registrants, states, the public, and non-governmental organizations. “Despite the control measures implemented in EPA’s October 2020 dicamba registration decision, the 2021 incident reports show little change in number, severity, or geographic extent of dicamba-related incidents when compared to the reports the Agency received before the 2020 control measures were required,” the report said.
“Given the new information from the 2021 growing season, EPA is reviewing whether over-the-top dicamba can be used in a manner that does not pose unreasonable risks to non-target crops and other plants, or to listed species and their designated critical habitats. EPA is also evaluating its options for addressing future dicamba-related incidents.”
Nationwide, the EPA received some 3,500 dicamba incident complaints in 2021, resulting in alleged damage to more than a million acres of non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans, as well as off-target damage to other crops and non-agricultural landscapes, including a 160,000 acre wildlife refuge.
Some groups are questioning the data, however.
The American Soybean Association (ASA), National Cotton Council and American Farm Bureau Federation are among the agricultural groups raising. Growers are concerned with the potential of significant gaps in the data provided by the agency, according to the grower groups.
The groups said it is unclear whether complaints were submitted to multiple sources/regulators and were therefore double-counted, or if EPA, state regulators, or others investigated complaints to verify injury or assess potential causes.
Alan Meadows, a soybean grower from Halls, Tennessee, and ASA director said, “The agricultural community expects regulators to be clear with the data on which they are making decisions. It is concerning the information released provides an incomplete picture. Data that is not present in this EPA release may tell as much or more about the story than what the agency has included.”
According to the Dec. 21 report no changes will be made to 2022 dicamba product labels, and no new regulations have been imposed for the current fiscal crop year.
The EPA has asked product registrants such as Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and Corteva to propose voluntary measures to amend their labels or cancel specific products or uses.
“If EPA determines, following consideration of such a proposal, that such measures would address unreasonable adverse effects associated with the product or use, the Agency commits to conducting a public comment period prior to the adoption of any proposed decision designed to address the extent and severity of these incidents. In the absence of a voluntary request to cancel the product(s), it is unlikely that this process could occur and be fully implemented before the 2022 growing season,” according to the EPA.
The report also said, “EPA is committed to helping states address issues related to incidents in their jurisdictions. If a state wishes to further restrict or narrow the over-the-top uses of dicamba, the Agency will work with them to support their goals. Additionally, due to the extent and severity of reported incidents from the 2021 growing season, EPA is unlikely to approve section 24(c) requests under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to register additional uses of federally registered over-the-top dicamba products to meet special local needs.”
In addition, the EPA stated that it is highly likely that the actual number of off-target dicamba applications that caused damage to crop, and plants was underreported in 2021.
“In 2020, EPA compared the incidents reported to EPA against incidents reported in USDA’s 2018 Soybean Agricultural Resource Management Surveys (ARMS) and estimated that approximately one incident is reported to EPA for every 25 incidents reported to USDA.
Additionally, a survey of midwestern specialty crop growers found that 45 percent of those surveyed had crops impacted by some level of herbicide drift in 2020. However, the survey indicated that only 6 percent of growers reported incidents when herbicide damage was detected in 2019 and 2020. Respondents did not distinguish damage by herbicide, but reported dicamba, 2,4-D or glyphosate as the most likely herbicide causing damage,” the EPA said, adding: “Through meetings, letters, and media reports, EPA has received input from stakeholders that is consistent with the finding that dicamba-related incidents are underreported to state lead agencies.”
In Illinois, 336 alleged incidents of dicamba-related damage to non-tolerant crops resulted in damage to more than 66,000 acres, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which has set a June 20, 2022, deadline for in-season dicamba applications.
In June 2020, a U.S. appeals court blocked dicamba sales and ruled the EPA had understated risks related to its use. President Donald Trump’s EPA re-authorized the use of dicamba-based weed killers later that year with new restrictions, invalidating the court ruling.
While some farmers and seed companies have called for a compromise by limiting dicamba applications to the pre-planting stage, The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups have asked the EPA to impose a complete ban on all dicamba products.