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EPA cancels dicamba registration, allows use of the weed killer until July 31

Farmers and pesticide applicators can use the weed killer dicamba until July 31, the EPA announced on Monday as it canceled its approval of the herbicide, as required by an appellate court decision announced last week. The so-called existing stocks order will allow use of the chemical on GE cotton and soybeans this crop year — the goal of farmers facing the loss of a potent weed-control tool with the growing season already under way.

The victors in the appellate decision, a coalition of farm and environmental groups, said the EPA had flouted the crystal-clear ruling to end use of dicamba immediately. “We will bring the EPA’s failure to abide by the court’s order to the court as expeditiously as possible,” they said.

Farm groups argued that growers had spent tens of millions of dollars to buy dicamba for use on their crops this spring and would have trouble finding a replacement. The National Cotton Council said this year’s crop would lose $400 million in value if dicamba was not available for use against invasive weeds that resist glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. As one gauge of the situation, the EPA cited one estimate that 4 million gallons of dicamba were in trade channels.

“Today’s cancellation and existing stocks order is consistent with EPA’s standard practice following registration invalidation, and is designed to advance compliance, ensure regulatory certainty, and to prevent the misuse of existing stocks,” said administrator Andrew Wheeler. In a statement, Wheeler said an immediate cutoff of dicamba “threatened the livelihood of our nation’s farmers and the global food supply.” Bumper crops are forecast worldwide this year.

“Growers and commercial applicators may use existing stocks that were in their possession on June 3, 2020, the effective date of the court decision. Such use must be consistent with the product’s previously approved label, and may not continue after July 31, 2020,” said the EPA in summarizing its actions.

Many states limit the spraying of dicamba on cotton and soybeans to spring and early summer, so the EPA’s July 31 deadline will allow growers to apply the herbicide as usual this year. Illinois and Minnesota have June 20 deadlines, for example. Minnesota says dicamba is highly volatile and the June 20 cutoff will reduce the potential for damage to neighboring crops.

In a ruling last week, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals nullified EPA approval of dicamba, which was introduced in 2017 as a new option for weed control. “We are aware of the practical effects of our decision,” wrote appellate judge William Fletcher, but he said the EPA had underestimated or ignored the risks associated with dicamba. The ruling applies to versions of dicamba sold by Bayer, BASF, and Corteva. It does not apply to Syngenta’s version of dicamba.

Bayer has said it will seek EPA approval, formally called registration, for dicamba for 2021 crops.

The weed killer has been blamed for damaging neighboring fields and plants by failing to stay where it is applied. Critics say the herbicide too easily vaporizes and is carried by the wind away from its target. In February, a Missouri jury awarded a peach farmer $265 million for dicamba damage to his orchards.

State agriculture officials from Iowa to Texas had urged the EPA to issue the “existing stocks” order, as did Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Farmers across America have spent hard-earned money on previously allowed crop-protection tools,” said Perdue.

The largest U.S. farm group also said farmers should be allowed to use the weed killer that they paid for. “Responsible farmers who have invested in — and often taken loans out to purchase — dicamba-resistant products for the current growing season should not bear the financial burden caused by this legal dispute,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

While waiting for the EPA to announce its plans, officials in the most of the leading soybean and cotton states said they would allow growers to continue using dicamba. The exception was Illinois, the No. 1 soybean state.

The EPA’s cancellation and existing stocks order is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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