Dicamba hardly dust in the wind (Editorial)
(Nov. 29, 2017) A little more than a year ago, in October 2016, farm worker Allan Curtis Jones allegedly shot and killed soybean farmer Mike Wallace on a county road in Arkansas.
The sheriff later told reporters that the two men had been arguing.
According to a report of the incident in the Associated Press, their dispute, according to the sheriff, revolved around a phenomenon known in the region as “dicamba drift.”
The use of dicamba, a powerful weed killer that farmers spray on soybeans and cotton fields, has become increasingly divisive in Arkansas and other heartland states, pitting farmers against each other.
Many farmers say the chemical has wafted onto their fields, damaging crops that are not genetically modified to withstand it.
Wallace, it seemed, believed it had drifted from a nearby farm and shriveled his soybeans.
Jones, who has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge, is slated to go to trial in December.
Dicamba is a broad-spectrum herbicide first registered in 1967.
Brand names for formulations of this herbicide include Banvel, Diablo, Oracle and Vanquish.
The chemical compound is an organochloride and a derivative of benzoic acid.
Last month, the battle over dicamba appeared to escalate.
Monsanto sued Arkansas regulators for banning its version of the herbicide, XtendiMax.
The corporate giant asked a state judge to bar the Arkansas Plant Board from enforcing its prohibition of the product.
The plant board adopted the ban last November, preventing XtendiMax from being used each year from April 15 through Sept. 15.
The state later approved a temporary restriction that extended to other dicamba weed killers.
And last month, the panel nixed a petition from Monsanto to let its herbicide be used in the state.
“The Plant Board’s arbitrary approach also has deprived, and if left unchecked will continue to deprive, Arkansas farmers of the best weed management tools available — tools that are available to farmers in every other soybean- and cotton-producing state in the nation,” the company said in its lawsuit.
But Arkansas is one of at least 21 states across the corn and soybean belts where dicamba drift has been devastating plantings in adjoining or nearby properties.
Major ag chemical companies, also including BASF and DuPont, have not only made adjustments in the chemistry of the weed killer but have changed labels for over-the-top dicamba product use.
Key changes include:
Products will be reclassified for “restricted use.”
Only certified applicators with dicamba-specific training can apply them.
That may limit use. Applicators and farmers will be required to maintain specific product use records; Maximum wind speeds must be below 10 mph (down from 15 mph) to reduce potential drift; Applications may be made only between dawn and dusk; Tank clean-out rules must be followed to avoid cross-contamination; And nearby sensitive crop registries must be notified.
Interestingly, farmers in the Mid-Atlantic have not been inclined to use dicamba.
Dr. Burkhard Schulz, University of Maryland weed control specialist, said several factors may be involved in that decision.
Generally speaking, he said, “I think that Mid-Atlantic farmers are more cautious with the adoption of this technology than their peers in the Midwest.
“One reason could also be that Midwest farmers are more challenged with multi-resistant Palmer amaranth, which has just started here to make inroads.”
Nonetheless, as nationwide reports of dicamba-related damage to soybeans and other crops continue to climb, American Soybean Association President and Illinois farmer Ron Moore reiterated the association’s commitment to find a solution to the issue:
“This issue isn’t going away — in fact, it’s only getting worse. There are now a reported 2,242 complaints affecting 3.1 million acres of soybeans in 21 of our 30 soybean-growing states, and we expect that number to continue to rise.
“This is unacceptable, and we are committed to establishing both a cause and a path forward on the dicamba issue, including what actions need to be taken to assure that soybean farmers can use the product safely without damaging their own or their neighbors’ plantings.”
We wish the ASA Godspeed in this mission.
When an issue involving the use of an agricultural chemical leads to a shooting on an Arkansas country road, it’s time to fully assess the performance of the chemical and, if possible, make whatever changes are necessary to make it safe to use.
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