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Monsanto explains actions as dicamba drift fallout continues

Monsanto explains actions as dicamba drift fallout continues
Farmer outcry for Xtend soybeans the reason for release? Monsanto: we are not an enforcement agency.

When serious drift issues began popping up around the Mid-South in late June, dicamba immediately became the prime suspect.

The reason? Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean seed had been approved for planting in 2016. However, the company’s new dicamba formulation with lower volatility had not. In fact, no dicamba product has been approved for use with the Xtend technology.

It turns out the ban didn’t stop farmers – many desperate to control problem pigweeds – from spraying various dicamba products on the crop. The full consequences of those actions won’t be known until harvest but regulatory officials in several states cite a rough figure of 200,000 affected acres in the Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel and Tennessee.

Monsanto has big plans for Xtend soybeans. With both the EU and Chinese approvals of the technology, and confident its dicamba formulations will be approved by the EPA, Monsanto “continues to be in a strong position to supply roughly 15 million U.S. soy acres when the selling season arrives,” reads a company statement.

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On July 26, Delta Farm Press spoke with Dan Urnikis, Monsanto Industry Affairs Lead, and Kyel Richard, the company’s Product Communications Lead. Among their comments:

On the EU approval of Xtend soybeans…

Urnikis: “We received word from the European Commission to our regulatory team in Europe last Friday afternoon (July 22), their time. They communicated the trait had been approved and signed off. With Europe’s approval that completes all key market approvals of the Xtend trait.”

On approval of Monsanto’s dicamba formulations…

“Monsanto is currently pending a label approval that we expect early this fall for a reformulated version of dicamba. We foresee the approval but, at this time, there is no approved chemistry over-the-top for the Xtend crop system.

“The comment period has been closed by the EPA on their proposed draft label. Now, we’re waiting for the final label to be issued and approved.”

Why did you put the Xtend out without approval of the new formulations? Can you explain the thought process?

“We’ve been developing soybean varieties for several years in anticipation of a full regulatory approval. That process takes several years and we’ve had continued delays. Our best products continue to sit on the shelf.

“So, farmers tell us they’d prefer to try new varieties on their farm for small quantities in initial years to see which work on their farms the best. We chose to launch this year to allow growers to experience the industry-leading varieties of Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. They can plant with confidence this year in anticipation of the chemical approval for the 2017 growing season.”

Same decision now?

Would the same decision be made if you had to do it now?

“We have an extensive communication plan – not only to dealers, but to growers, to our technology use guides – ensuring it is clear any over-the-top use of dicamba is illegal. We believe the vast majority of farmers do the right thing through that extensive communication. We thought it important for growers to get the opportunity to experience the new technology while really understanding the requirements and expectations for farmers to follow the label when applying herbicides on their farms.”

On XtendiMax VaporGrip and volatility…

“We anticipate the EPA to approve our first formulation (M1691) this fall. We believe by spring 2017 XtendiMax and Roundup Xtend will be approved. Both contain the VaporGrip technology.

“VaporGrip is a tool to help maintain low-volatility formulations to minimize off-target movement and make responsible use of the dicamba technology. It significantly reduces the volatility of current dicamba products.

“Pending regulatory approval, next year we’ll be out with a Roundup Ready cropping system that features the VaporGrip technology, which limits volatility and drift concerns.”

Has Monsanto taken a position on the best way to address those who don’t adhere to the rules?

“We understand the EPA is investigating and Monsanto is supporting that work.”

Richard: “The thing I want to underline is we, as a company, aren’t an enforcement agency. We’re confident that the state officials will be evaluating the complaints, will investigate and will take appropriate actions.

“As a company, we can’t speculate on what action government officials will take – especially those who are investigating complaints of misuse. I’m sure they’re working diligently and will be taking action.”

In Arkansas, one of the proposals is to have a cut-off date for dicamba. If adopted, that would seem to really hamper the Xtend technology.

Richard: “Depending on the date and timeline – depending on what formulations they’d be making determinations on – I think we have to hold off comment. The new formulations with VaporGrip have different profiles than the products available today. We want to make sure the proposed restrictions align with the use of XtendiMax or Roundup Ready Xtend product with VaporGrip technology.”

If the technology is fully adopted it seems we’ll be seeing a lot of drift cases until farmers get used to it.

Richard: “As a company, we believe the EPA will be making every effort to develop a label that will help prevent adverse effects on non-target crops and the environment. As a company, we’ll have specific application requirements that will be required of applicators and growers if they apply dicamba over-the-top of crops.”

Robust plan

More on efforts taken to ensure everyone knew it was illegal to spray dicamba over-the-top…

Urnikis: “We did an extensive amount of work with our partners and licensees to implement a very robust communication plan. We had multiple touch points to ensure our licensing partners, growers, dealers and members of industry organizations understood that no dicamba products are approved for crop use.

“We added high-visibility tags, or placards, to all our products. We upgraded the technology user guides for all our growers with technology user agreements. That language was clear that it is illegal to apply any dicamba chemistries over-the-top.

“Beyond that, we had broad communications through letters and phone calls to our dealer networks. We worked a lot with academics within the industry. We have a stewardship website that has communications regarding this. We spent a lot of time at trade shows and working with industry organizations like various grower groups to ensure there’s clear communication on the fact that there are no dicamba approved for over-the-top use.”

Richard: “It’s very important to note that (Monsanto) doesn’t manufacture any dicamba products. That fact has been lost in some of the conversation. In the future, we will. But, at this time, it isn’t our (dicamba) products being used.”

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