Farm Progress

Could dicamba related crop injury have been avoided?

Jim Ruen

July 31, 2017

8 Min Read
A lot of possible reasons for soybean injury in non-Xtend soybeans have been suggested. Missouri plant scientist Kevin Bradley reports that the majority of the injured soybean fields he visited this summer exhibited injury from one end to the other with no discernable difference in soybean symptomology. "This suggests problems with off-site movement through volatility," he says.dicamba related crop injury

Think Different

·         If you suspect dicamba-related injury to your non-Xtend soybeans, report it to your extension service, retailer, department of ag and the companies involved, even if you are not seeking to recover losses.

·         If you applied new generation dicamba products and no crop injury occurred to nearby non-Xtend soybeans, report that as well.

·         Document when, where and extent of damage.

·         Gather yield data from injured and non-injured areas.

·         Ask your retailer, his supplier and involved seed and chemical companies to share their data: complaints numbers, amount of product sold/sprayed, acres planted, etc.

·         If answers are to be found, data must be gathered.

·         The more data, the better the answers and the better prepared everyone will be for 2018.



The total acres of non-Xtend soybeans damaged by drift, volatilization, off-label tank mixes with unapproved products and failing to follow the label this cropping year may never be known. To the growers who suffered damage on tens, hundreds or thousands of acres outright, it is devastating.

"We have entire fields that have dicamba injury," says Jason Hamlin, agronomist, Hopper Farms, Tiptonville, Tennessee. "While I can't say it is every field that doesn't have Xtend traits, it is a high percentage of our fields and we don't know why. The new products weren't supposed to be as volatile as the old dicamba. This has us all kind of scratching our heads."


Lack of independent testing

To Kevin Bradley, it is a disaster that might have been avoided.

"Up until this year, I know of no independent weed scientists that have been allowed to do any work on volatilization with these new formulations of dicamba," says the associate professor, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri. "Or if they have, they are now under confidentiality agreements.  If I am wrong, I would love to see them come forward with this information. Now we have commercial release and all we have to go on is a company statement that their product is 70 or even 90 percent less volatile than generic dicamba. But we don't know what 30 percent or even 10 percent volatility means to soybeans without the Xtend trait."

Ty Witten, crop protection product lead, Monsanto, acknowledges the company did not allow independent testing, but rather followed accepted protocols and submitted company and third party research to the EPA – research he says is available to the public.

"Limiting research doesn't sound like a great way to introduce a new chemical," says Hamlin. "In the real world plots are different from thousands of acres sprayed."

Bradley admits that unbiased university research carried out this year will be available, but that means nothing to those affected in what he describes as a 25 to 30 million-acre experiment. Without questioning the efficacy of company-sponsored research, he points to growers he has visited who have unanswered questions after claiming to follow all label recommendations.


Issues despite following the label

"I've had growers and applicators show me records that indicate they applied product with the wind blowing away from fields that later showed injury," says Bradley. "They want to know why. Is it a volume issue? Is it a cumulative effect of vapor from multiple fields? We simply don't know enough."

Gary Wheeler is looking for answers on behalf of Missouri soybean growers. The CEO of Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and the Mid-America Research Development Foundation has lots of questions, but answers are hard to come by, especially with so little information to go on.

"We don't even necessarily know what the exact issue is, and that is the crux of the matter," says Wheeler. "We had 24 days out of 30 with inversions. Is the injury drift? Is it inversion? Is it generic forms of dicamba or volatilization of the new products and how they move? Due to research restraints, we don't know."



Farmers are divided

When the Missouri agriculture director issued a Stop-Sale order on all dicamba products on July 7th, it was with the support of Missouri Soy, but not of all its members. Wheeler had angry members on both sides of the issue. 

"On the one hand, we have a grower who lost his premium on 2,200 acres of seed soybeans, potential yield and possibly being able to sell what he does harvest. On the other hand is the grower who says, this is the technology we will plant and spray, so get on board," says Wheeler. "We do know that the technology works great and cleans up the fields. God forbid we lose this technology to fight weed pressure."

With no easy answer in hand, Wheeler says the organization endorsed the temporary stay as a way to get the companies to the table to work on the issue now and through the winter. Missouri Soy is also committed to supporting researchers like Bradley.


Need to sustain this technology

"On behalf of our farmers, we think that independent research is critical," says Wheeler. "We helped these companies get their products through the regulatory process. We need to work with them to sustain this technology for the long term. However, we believe opening the door to independent research is critical."

By mid July, Monsanto’s Witten was looking for answers as well. With a reported billion-dollar investment in a production facility alone, not to mention years of research into products and traits, the company is not likely to close the door on Xtend technologies.


Unapproved dicamba applied

"We believe there are fields that are misdiagnosed with cupping symptomology by other herbicides, other fields that show damage symptomatic of volatilization, inversion movement and some that show physical drift patterns," says Witten. "We are seeing all of these things come together in the market. We do know there has been a considerable amount of unapproved dicamba sold as well."


The independent research Bradley is running this year includes field experiments collecting air samples and using indicator plants placed at intervals after treatment. They are applying Banvel, Engenia and Xtendimax, sprayed in separate geographical areas in June, July and August. In a second set of experiments, Bradley is taking air samples and using indicator plants after spraying Xtendimax in one area in mid-afternoon and a second application at another area once an inversion sets in, during the evening/night.

With that disclaimer, Witten acknowledges that what he has seen in the field has been disheartening and discouraging. "We definitely have to understand what the grower is seeing and encourage growers with suspected dicamba related crop injury to call our 1-844-RRXTEND hotline," he says.


Much education about labels

That said, he argues that Monsanto has done everything it could to educate growers on the importance of following the label exactly, a label that is likely the most exacting and detailed yet seen.

BASF responded to queries by indicating the company was "using a number of analytical and investigative tools to determine whether Engenia herbicide or some other dicamba product was used and applied properly."

Steve Smith, director of agriculture, Red Gold (an Indiana/Ohio tomato processor), gives a lot of credit for the exacting labels to the organization he helped found. Since 2011, Save Our Crops Coalition has been lobbying the EPA and anyone who would listen about the dangers inherent in a dicamba soybean technology release, both trait and product.  They led the fight to require an environmental impact statement and require application around sensitive crops only when the wind is blowing away from them. He also suggests that the label can work.

"We worked extremely hard with our contract growers, encouraging them to be in contact with neighbors about following the label," says Smith. "As of early July, while I saw soybean injury as I drove across the state, we hadn't suffered any to our growers' fields."


Data sharing a must

Bradley admits that Missouri is the Show Me State, and its farmers seem to need to see for themselves how sensitive non-Xtend trait soybeans are to the new products and how any little thing wrong with the sprayer or off-label can cause problems. "Unfortunately, they are seeing the results," he says.


When Kevin Bradley talks to farmers about crop injury in non-Xtend soybeans, the audience likely includes enthusiastic users of the new technology. Farmers worry they could lose it, so they seeking answers as to why crops suffered in order to prevent it in the future.

Like Wheeler, Bradley is in a lose-lose situation. When he addresses the crop injuries that have taken place, he is challenged by growers who see the new technology as vital. What he does know is more information is needed.

"Companies need to share their data so we have a better idea what this technology means," he says. "If they are interested in helping their growers, we need to know how much product was sold and sprayed so we can understand what may have happened where there wasn't a problem and where there was."

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