Mandatory training for everyone who will apply the new formulas of dicamba or 2, 4-D, will not solve all the drift or volatility issues that showed up in 2017, the inaugural year for application of these auxin herbicides.
But training will be important, say Extension and industry observers on hand at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.
“It’s an awareness issue,” says Ken Smith, currently with FMC but with decades of pesticide work with both industry and Extension programs in Arkansas and Texas. “We can train farmers,” he says, “but we can’t train molecules.”
Jason Norsworthy, professor and Dow Chair of Weed Science at the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture in Fayetteville, says training will benefit farmers and applicators. “Training would have helped avoid some of the issues we had this first year,” he says, “but not all of them.” All applicators who apply the new formulations will be required to take training for 2018.
For one thing, Norsworthy says training will help farmers understand the labels which “are the most complex I have ever seen. A lot of growers simply did not understand the labels.”
He adds that following the label is difficult and many producers do not realize how restrictive the regulations are.
“When it gets to crunch time, and farmers have limited time to get materials applied, they tend to do what they have always done before,” Smith says.
That approach does not work with an auxin herbicide. “According to the label, many areas would have only 60 to 70 hours in a month they could actually spray these materials,” Norsworthy says. “Those windows of application vary geographically.
“This is not Roundup,” he adds. “We have dealt with the physical drift issue with Roundup, but the magnitude of sensitivity with these [auxin] products is significant.” He says crops such as rice, grapes, melons, vegetables, and landscape plants are highly sensitive to dicamba and 2, 4-D.
“Mandated training will increase farmers’ awareness of what it takes to apply these products and what to do when wind shifts,” Smith said. “Training will help farmers realize the difference between these products and other pesticides. We can’t do the same things with this product that we have done with others. When we change products, we have to change techniques, such as nozzle selection. We have to be willing to adapt.”
He says agriculture has dealt with off-target and drift issues with other products. “Now, companies have a responsibility to look at what can be done with these new formulations, and they need to look at what can’t be done. Training will be important to achieve that goal.”
He adds that some issues will involve equipment management, proper cleanout after use of an auxin herbicide. “A few years ago, big spray units had no good way for users to clean them out. So, equipment companies began adding valves to make it easier to flush out lines and clean the systems out.”
He says that kind of cooperation between company and farmer will be essential in protecting new herbicide (and other pesticide) products. “It will be important for companies to help producers learn to clean out equipment and to develop formulations that allow farmers to use them effectively. Pesticide training is a good step and will be a big plus for agriculture.”
Stanley Culpepper, professor and Extension agronomist in the Crop and Soil Science Department at the University of Georgia, in a presentation at the Consultant’s Conference, said training programs initiated in Georgia in 2014, in anticipation of the new auxin technology, among other important pesticide application issues, has already made a difference.
In 2014, when the training program was initiated, 289 complaints were reported from 48 counties. In 2017, that number had dropped to 91 from 48 counties, “during the launch of the auxin herbicide formulations.”
He also notes that the Georgia Department of Agriculture had no “in-season complaints regarding the auxin herbicides last year. They had one out-of-season complaint that is under investigation.”
He attributes the first year’s success to several factors, including grower experience. He says Georgia growers are accustomed to spraying pesticides near sensitive crops. Georgia has a diverse agriculture portfolio, including fresh market tomatoes, peanuts, beans and peas, fruits and nuts, and melons, to name just a few.
Cooperation among farmers, Extension and industry, before introduction of the new products and following application errors, also made the introduction and use go smoothly.
He said the environmental conditions also proved to be an advantage in 2017.
“And knowledge of the pesticide footprint is a factor.” He explains that farmers who know where sensitive crops are planted in relation to their fields and also understand how far the products may drift are significant factors in stewardship. “The dicamba footprint is much larger than it is for other herbicides.”
He says drift potential is probably three or four times farther than most farmers believe.
He adds that understanding that damage to a small segment of a crop like snap beans does not result in lost production for the damaged area alone, but may result in an inability to put the rest of the field into commerce.
Culpepper says pesticide application training involves classroom, “face-to-face and county agent one-on-one encounters.”
He says the first year of auxin herbicide use has been successful in weed control and “stewarding the new auxin technologies,” but adds, “We have much left to do.”
Product stewardship may depend on applicator training, Norsworthy says. “This is a product we need desperately. We may be two pesticides away from having nothing to use on Palmer amaranth. But we need a product that doesn’t pick up and move.”
LUCKY IN TEXAS
“We’ve been lucky in Texas,” says Texas AgriLife agronomist Josh McGinty, Corpus Christi. “We don’t have a lot of soybean acreage, and that’s where a lot of the problems developed in other states. We had a much better experience with dicamba last year. We only had 10 complaints to the Texas Department of Agriculture.”
He says training, in spite of so few problems, will still be important. “We’ve had some pushback from folks who wonder why we need more training since we’ve had so few problems. But it is not a state but a federal requirement. Training will not be too difficult, just another 45 minutes or so added onto other training.”
Smith says some producers might bridle at the prospect of more training. “But we need it,” he says. “Applicators will need to develop a new attitude about training and how to use these products.”
McGinty, Smith, and Norsworthy all emphasize that the training will be mandatory for anyone who will apply the materials, not just the certified applicator in charge. “Anyone under that certified applicator’s supervision who applies the material also must be trained,” McGinty said. “These are the folks who do not typically come in for continuing education (CEU) training.”
He says Texas training materials are ready and sessions start this month in south Texas, where planting season will begin as early as March. “We were completing the training program just as the new labels came out,” he says. “Scott Nolte with Texas AgriLife developed the training, working with TDA and the companies. Training will be conducted by Extension or by industry, using Extension slide decks.”
McGinty says part of the training will “take it back to the basics — how dicamba is different from other herbicides and how it reacts in the environment. “We need this product. We have weeds in south Texas that we can’t control. South Texas farmers who used this technology last year were very happy with it and had clean fields. I think we can steward this product very well.”
Culpepper and others on the Consultant Conference program touched on the possibility that if the product is not “stewarded” properly in 2018, the label could be pulled.
The issue goes beyond stewardship and beyond drift, volatility and damage mitigation. “We’ve seen neighbor turn against neighbor over this issue,” Smith says. “I would never have believed it; the agriculture community has always been close knit. Not everyone liked everyone else, but they all got along. It’s a sad day.”
Norsworthy agrees. “We’ve seen a lot of finger pointing — company against the farmer, farmer against the company. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Academics, industry and farmer have always worked together.”
They hope to see the kind of industry-wide cooperation Culpepper described in his presentation, and they hope that training, building awareness, and understanding the products and labels better will ease some tensions.
“We need the products. And we need the training,” Norsworthy says.