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Monsanto Says Dicamba Movement Largely Due to Illegal Products, Sprayer Contamination

Monsanto officials say preliminary tests show dicamba contamination in sprayer tanks.

Earlier this week in Illinois, Robb Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto, addressed 300 farmers in Illinois.

“I asked those farmers who planted Xtend beans (in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Xtend System) to raise their hands,” he says. “Two hundred did. I (then) asked them how many had problems with their Xtend technology, and all hands went down. The point is, the vast majority of Xtend soybeans and cotton planted in 34 states have had a great experience.”

The theme of July 13’s Monsanto phone press conference differed with that of a University of Missouri pest management field day on July 7. There, MU weed scientists estimated off-target dicamba had damaged 22% of soybeans in the Bootheel portion of southeastern Missouri.

Monsanto officials noted there have been problems with off-target dicamba this year. Still, they caution farmers to look at all possibilities for injury. Other factors — not just dicamba — can damage soybeans.

“There is clear symptomology (of damage) in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri,” says Fraley. “I understand why those farmers are frustrated and looking at answers. Leaf cupping is caused by variety of actors, (such as) weather, disease, certain environments, and a variety of crop protection products like dicamba. 

“Misdiagnosis can be a problem,” he says. “For example, some have speculated dicamba was responsible for cupping of tobacco leaves in North Carolina. It was due to a calcium deficiency in those plants.”

New Formulations 

Federal regulators approved dicamba-tolerant soybeans for use in 2016. However, they did not approve matching dicamba formulations advertised as having low-volatility potential to minimize off-target movement.

Three new dicamba formulations advertised as being low in volatility accompanied the dicamba-tolerant technology launched in 2017. They include: 
• BASF’s Engenia
• Dupont FeXapan Plus Vapor Grip Technology
• Monsanto’s Xtendimax with Vapor Grip Technology

Monsanto’s Xtendimax was designed for low propensity to move off-target, says Fraley. 
“We’ve done exhaustive testing on Xtendimax formulations,” he says. “We have put lots of effort into developing formulations that dramatically reduce volatility.” He says Monsanto tests show that Xtendimax herbicide has 100 times less volatility when compared with older generic dicamba products.

 “We have been testing formulations for over a decade in our filings to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to demonstrate (its performance) in all market conditions (such as) temperature, wind conditions, soil types,” adds John Chambers, Monsanto North American tech development and agronomy lead. All these factors are considered in forming a robust product assessment and appropriate label to ensure appropriate stewardship, he says. 

Off-Label Applications 

“I’ve spent the last few weeks visiting farmers in the field, and talking directly to farmers about Xtend and Xtendimax technology in Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota,” says Fraley.  “Unfortunately, many famers and consultants I met commented that off-label use of older generic herbicides was high. In certain areas, off-label use was 25% of the applications. Sales of these (off-label) products spiked this year, despite the fact that corn and wheat acres were down. The extent (of the use) of off-label products was surprising and troubling. It’s also illegal.”

In some other cases, spray boom parameters and aerial photographs link damage in glufosinate-sprayed Liberty Link fields with sprayer contamination. Although data is early and preliminary, four out of 10 glufosinate samples taken by Monsanto investigators were contaminated with low levels of dicamba, he says. 

“It is critical that spray units should be cleaned out,” Fraley says. 

Other label steps must be followed, he says. 

“Of all the (off-target) applications we saw, almost all of them were where we saw drift related to probably not having adequate buffer distance and spraying in wind conditions (outside of label parameters),” says Fraley.

Says Chambers: “When we get out and work with customers and investigate these situations, the vast majority of the time, it would be where there is something not done according to the label.” 

A detailed set of steps — sprayer cleanout, appropriate nozzles, wind speed parameters, border requirements – need to be followed when Xtendimax is applied, says Fraley. He notes more emphasis will be put on educational efforts with farmers and applicators in the future. 

“Fortunately, most fields already are recovering from leaf cupping symptoms and should yield normally,” he says. 

Not all agree with this. “We have done as much work on it as anyone,” said Kevin Bradley, MU Extension weed specialist at the July 7 MU field day. “And I can’t walk out in a field of V3 soybeans that have been injured and say it won’t have yield loss. In many cases, we cannot give them (farmers) an answer.” 

State Bans and Restrictions

This summer, Arkansas banned the use of dicamba for agricultural purposes. Use of pesticides containing dicamba for lawns, gardens, turf, pasture, and rangeland is still legal.

Arkansas also increased the civil penalty for dicamba application misuse of up to $25,000. It will go into effect August 1.

On July 7, the Missouri Department of Agriculture suspended sale and use of dicamba products. However, it lifted the ban on July 13 with the following restrictions:  
• No applications made at wind speeds greater than 10 mph.
• No applications made before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m. 
• Applications made only by certified applicators.
• Record keeping requirements for each application of Engenia, Xtendimax, and FeXapan.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture also placed restrictions on dicamba applications on July 13, including application only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Clearly, farmers are frustrated, and they are looking for answers,” says Lisa Safarian, vice president North America at Monsanto. However, she says outright bans such as the Arkansas one hurt farmers by taking away an effective tool.

“Even though we do not sell dicamba products in Arkansas, we are concerned that this ban will negatively impact farmers in that state,” she says. “We have heard from farmers who are having incredible success with Xtend crops, saying their fields are cleaner than others, and they want to keep using it.”

A better approach has been taken by Missouri and Tennessee, she says. “We think that approach makes sense, she says.

Meanwhile, states like Georgia have had excellent success with the Xtendimax system with no damage complaints, she says. 

Growing Pains

Fraley says Roundup Ready technology had some baggage with off-target movement in its early years. 

“We dealt with concerns about tank clean-out, drift issues, actual examples of spray applicators spraying the wrong (non-glyphosate tolerant) soybeans,” says Fraley. “My experience with any technology in the first year is that there are kinks needed to work out. As we look at the experience this year on 25 million acres of (Xtendimax dicamba-tolerant) technology, there are things we can look at and continue to make suggestions and change recommendations in preparation for 2018 planting season.”

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