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EPA decision on dicamba formulation labels expected soon

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Beck’s Hybrids explains company position

Where will the EPA come down on the label of new dicamba formulations?

While that remains to be seen, prompted by the government agency’s looming decision, a major soybean seed company, Beck’s Hybrids, has gone public with its position on the matter.

Headquartered in central Indiana, “Beck’s is a family-owned independent company,” says Kevin Cavanaugh, director of research. “We started in 1937, so we’ve been in the seed industry for 82 years. We sell corn, soybeans, and soft red winter wheat.”

Beck’s marketing is focused on 11 states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota. About 60 percent of the U.S. soybean acreage is inside that marketing area.

“We’ve been growing dramatically for the last 25 years, so our position in the seed industry is the fourth-largest soybean seller in the U.S.,” says Cavanaugh, who spoke to Delta Farm Press mid-August. Among his comments:

On the company’s stance regarding dicamba-tolerant soybeans…

“We’re focused on representing choices to farmers — that’s of utmost importance. We sell Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, LibertyLink soybeans, Roundup Ready 2 soybeans, glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, and conventional soybeans. To combat weed resistance, it’s very important for farmers to have all those technologies available.

“On July 27, we wrote a letter to the EPA expressing our concern with the use of dicamba in-season on Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. On Nov. 9, the label will expire on the three (new formulations of dicamba): Engenia, FeXapan, and XtendiMax.

See also: Larry Steckel: Stewardship of dicamba and 2,4-D reviewed

“Our concern is that when people use those dicamba products in-season they can do a very good job following the label as an applicator, but because of the volatilization in that system, you can follow the label and still have volatilization take place when dicamba gets on your neighbor’s crops that aren’t Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, and that can harm their yields.

“Thinking long-term, if we’re going to combat weed resistance, we need all the tools available. So, our stance isn’t to say, ‘get rid of Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans,’ but rather ‘let’s modify the label so that not only can Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans be used, but all technologies can be used in the marketplace.’

“Plus, with all the new technologies coming — like Enlist soybeans, and Syngenta has a trait called MGI — there’s more chance for problems because those aren’t dicamba-tolerant either.

“We don’t think dicamba in the current formulations can be safely used in the growing season. We suggest that the EPA restrict the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend system to a preplant, or by a date for each individual state to be able to use dicamba safely, and allow farmers to maintain choice.”

There is an expectation the EPA is supposed to rule on the new label in August. Is that Beck’s understanding?

“Our understanding is that the EPA understands many seed-purchasing decisions take place before harvest. So, they’re trying to get a ruling out in August ahead of a lot of seed orders. That way farmers will be able to react to any changes in the label, or renewal of the label, or whatever is decided.

“So, yes, our understanding is that a decision will be made in August.”

On a survey done by Beck’s…

“Our concern was that people might say, ‘Oh, Beck’s isn’t interested in selling Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans.’ So, we decided to send out a survey to see what grower opinions are. We thought that would be a good way to explain to the EPA what growers are thinking about the dicamba technology.

See also: Dicamba drift problems not an aberration

“We sent out over 32,000 e-mails and had a 2.2 percent response rate to a very simple survey. There were questions like, ‘Do you grow soybeans? What type do you grow? Do you have acres affected by either drift or volatilization of dicamba?’ We also asked what the grower felt should happen with the label.

“About 49 percent of those who responded — just short of 700 — said they feel the label should be modified or allowed to expire. That was concerning to us because almost half said there should be something done with the label.”

Have you had a response from the EPA regarding the survey?

“We have not. The EPA is holding its decision-making very close to the vest. They asked for the survey results, which we sent. Then, they asked for the raw data from the survey, and we sent that as well.”

What about the response from clients since you came out with this position?

“It’s been interesting. When you talk to a farmer who is using the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend system, they’ll often say, ‘I like the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend system, and want to move forward with it as is.’ That’s assuming they haven’t had any problems with drift or volatility.

“Those who use other technologies, such as LibertyLink, may have had dicamba drift onto their soybeans. Their responses are much stronger.

They say, ‘We need to do something about this label. Dicamba can’t be used safely in-season. Go look at state reports — there’s a significant number of complaints to regulatory agencies, just like there was in 2017. That’s after all the educational efforts in the off-season, and we’re still seeing problems.’

“But there’s another piece of this that can’t be overlooked. We can talk about vegetable and ornamental growers, but when you think about the general public near farms where dicamba is sprayed, their trees or gardens can be affected.

“We’re concerned about how the public views that. Will they continue to see agriculture as good stewards of herbicides? Or will they start to say, ‘They don’t care about my trees and my yard and garden.’ That could give agriculture a very bad name, and the EPA needs to be aware of that.” 

Regarding Beck’s experience with state regulatory agencies compared to those at the federal level…

“The EPA has been very open to input, and we’ve been very pleased with the relationship we’ve built with officials. That has been positive. The EPA is also very careful not to give any indication of the direction they’re heading. They are very tight-lipped.

“At the state level, because of different performance of the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend system in different areas, you pick up more regional differences. In Indiana, we’ve got very good state people to work with. They may have a different view than those in, say, Arkansas, which has a ‘no dicamba applications after April 15’ rule. Each state can modify the label, and it will be interesting to see what happens.” 

Anything else?

“It’s important to understand that Beck’s supports all technologies, including Roundup Ready 2 Xtend. As we came out with our position, many people said, ‘Beck’s is against Roundup Ready 2 Xtend.’ That isn’t true at all.

“Another way of looking at this is that the EPA could just drop the label entirely. We’d see that as a problem, and would stand up for the technology. We just need the label tweaked as it’s currently written, but we need Roundup Ready 2 Xtend long-term to combat weed resistance.

“There are new dicamba formulations coming. We’ve tried the three currently available and, in our opinion, they have caused challenges during the growing season. We support their use as a preplant option. If a new formulation comes out with less drift and volatility, you’ll see us become very big supporters.

“Right now, though, our stance is that while we support all technologies, we don’t think dicamba can be used in-season safely with the current formulations.”

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