Federal appeals court kills dicamba
Farmers across the Delmarva region reacted last week with surprise to news that a federal appeals court rejected the approval of dicamba, a widely used herbicide.
In Maryland and Virginia, farmers said the ruling, which allows some existing dicamba stocks to be used through July 31, could hamstring soybean and cotton growers who have already planted dicamba-resistant seeds and were counting on the herbicide this growing season.
“It’s certainly a big deal here in Virginia,” said Ben Rowe, national affairs coordinator for the Virginia Farm Bureau. Many farmers will have to switch to alternative herbicides. “For the farmer who’s going to need that, they have to do more spraying or, possibly, they’re going to have diminished yields or diminished quality.”
The June 3 ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency revoke its approval of three dicamba-based products due to their damage to other crops and conflicts they caused in farming communities nationwide. Dicamba is used on tens of millions acres of soybeans and cotton across the country.
In response, the EPA announced a new prohibition of three pesticide products containing dicamba: Xtendimax with Vaporgrip Technology, Engenia and FeXapan.
Dicamba isn’t as popular in Maryland, often because farms are too diversified and the herbicide puts other crops at risk, said Travis Hutchison, a Cordova farmer. This year, some of Hutchison’s beans are dicamba-resistant, though he planted them solely for their yield potential and not because he planned to spray them.
“There’s a few people who use it who have really bad weed problems, but I’d say the majority of people (in Maryland) don’t use it,” he said.
But farmers who use it will be spraying the herbicide over the next two to six weeks, said Kevin Conroy, assistant secretary for plant industries and pest management at the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Private or commercial pesticide applicators who owned the herbicide as of June 3 are able to use it until July 31.
“We should be in good shape in terms of using it,” Conroy told the Maryland Agricultural Commission on June 10.
The state is notifying ag product retailers on what they can and cannot do with their remaining dicamba stock going forward, he said. Tom Mullineaux, the commission’s ag services representative, urged the department to help with “the dicamba mess” created by the ruling.
“This is a big deal,” he said. “We’ve lost an herbicide, a chemistry that we’ve been waiting for for years to control problems in resistant weeds.”
Companies that make dicamba were licensed in 2016 and the EPA renewed the license for two years in 2018. The approval involved a newer version designed to be sprayed on genetically modified soybeans and cotton. Environmental and food safety groups had sued to block approval.
The EPA approval came with restrictions on when dicamba could be sprayed to avoid it being carried by wind or other conditions onto neighboring fields where crops couldn’t survive it. In the appellate ruling, Judge William Fletcher wrote that the EPA overstated the protections and understated or ignored the environmental and economic risks.
Indiscriminate, crop-killing use of the herbicide has “torn apart the social fabric of many farming communities,” the ruling said, noting that an Arkansas farmer was shot and killed in an argument over the weed killer in 2016.
For that reason, Jason Scott, a Dorchester County grain farmer and seed dealer, said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling. The timing, however, did.
“Taking away an option midseason like that is tough,” he said.
The ruling was criticized by Bayer, the German parent company of Monsanto Co., which makes the herbicide.
“The EPA’s informed science-based decision reaffirms that this tool is vital for growers and does not pose any unreasonable risks of off-target movement when used according to label directions,” the company said in a statement.
Though disappointed in the court’s decision, Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said he expected farmers would adapt.
“As long as environmental conditions are favorable, this timeframe should allow growers to spray their crops to combat weeds like pigweed, palmar amaranth, and other glyphosate-resistant weeds so they don’t see a reduction in crop yield,” he said in a statement.
(Sean Clougherty and the Associated Press contributed to this story.)
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