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Bayer Officials Say Dicamba Investigations Are Down in 2018 vs. 2017

Better applicator education plays a big part, officials say.

Now that Bayer has begun integrating Monsanto after its purchase of the St. Louis firm, Bayer executives can comment on matters like dicamba and other issues the combined company faces. Here are some areas they discussed at a press conference at the recent Farm Progress Show, held near Boone, Iowa.

Dicamba complaints are down for 2018 from 2017.

In 2017, inquiries regarding off-target dicamba in the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend system tallied 99 inquires per 1 million acres. This year, it’s down to 13 per million acres, and most revolved around weed-control issues, says Brett Begemann, Bayer Crop Science chief operating officer. One reason is better applicator education, he says. “One of the things farmers have started to appreciate is it (dicamba) is not as forgiving (as other herbicides),” he says. “When we say follow the label, we mean follow the label.”

Besides drift, volatility has also been a reason for off-target movement. “Volatility will never go away, but if you follow the label, it is manageable if you use the correct formulation,” says Begemann. The reduction in complaints also coincides with an analysis by the University of Missouri (MU). 

Kevin Bradley, MU Extension weed specialist, pointed out that as of July 25 last year, 1,411 dicamba-related injury investigations were being conducted by the various state agriculture departments. University weed scientists estimated dicamba had injured approximately 2.5 million acres of soybeans. As of July 15, 2018, around 600 cases were being investigated by state departments of agriculture. University weed scientists estimated 1.1 million acres of soybeans had been injured by dicamba.

However, volatility is still a stickler for university weed scientists. Bradley asks if all this can be explained by some combination of physical drift, sprayer error, failure to follow guidelines, temperature inversions, generic dicamba usage, contaminated herbicides, and improper sprayer clean-out, but not volatility. Meanwhile, acres to dicamba-tolerant soybean acres are approximately double that of 2017, up from last year’s 25 million acres to around 50 million acres this year.

For now, all brands under the Bayer-Monsanto brands will remain. 

All possible product overlap was jettisoned before the merger, says Begemann. For example, Bayer’s LibertyLink technology was sold to BASF. “The regulators did their job, just as expected,” Begemann says. “Those products have been sold off to highly competitive multinational companies. They will keep those products in the marketplace. This deal brings opportunities to create more choices and more opportunities for farmers to increase productivity. We have a great chemical and seed and trait portfolio, and the world’s best digital plan for agriculture.”

Bayer is sticking with Roundup. 

In August, a California court ruled that Monsanto owes $289 million to a school groundskeeper — Dewayne Johnson – due to what the jury decided was due to exposure to glyphosate formulations including Roundup herbicide. “That one case doesn’t change the 800 scientific studies done over 40 years (proving Roundup/glyphosate is safe),” says Begemann. “It’s a horrible situation for the plaintiff, Mr. Johnson. We have great sympathy for him and his family, but Roundup does not cause cancer.”

New products from Bayer are coming down the pike. They include:

  • NemaStrike, a new product for nematode control for both corn and soybeans. It will be available exclusively from all Channel, DeKalb, Asgrow, and associated regional brand seed dealers for the 2019 growing season, say Bayer officials. NemaStrike is a new chemistry (tioxazafen) and is active in the root zone for up to 75 days after planting, say Bayer officials. Four years’ worth of tests across North America show that it helps improve corn yields, on average, about 6 bushels an acre and sometimes more, according to Bayer officials.
  • BioRise 2 for corn, a new biological seed treatment that contains two technologies, Acceleron B-300 SAT, and Acceleron B-360 ST.  Bayer officials say corn yields are boosted 3.1 bushels per acre.

Agricultural start-ups are hot, during a down crop market.

Begemann says billions of dollars are pouring into agricultural start-ups. “Never in my wildest dreams 15 years ago did I think that would happen.” The numbers support him. Companies ranging from IBM to Google to venture capital companies are pumping money into agriculture. During the second quarter of 2017, the U.S venture community committed a record $530 million to agtech start-ups, according to a 2017 Agtech Investment Review by Finistere Ventures.

They’re optimistic regarding digital agriculture.

One of the main drivers of the Bayer-Monsanto deal was The Climate Corporation. Monsanto bought the San Francisco firm in 2013. 

“This digital revolution is fundamentally shaping how we do research,” says Bob Reiter, who heads research and development for Bayer Crop Science. In 2017, the average U.S. corn yield was 176.6 bushels per acre. “Still, we know from corn-growing contests that push corn over 500 bushels (per acre) that seed has a tremendous amount of potential that we don’t realize on every single acre we plant. That is where big data come in.” He says it can greatly aid farmers to make sound agronomic decisions.

Begemann recalls that his late father pulled him aside in the last days of his life, back when biotechnology was first gaining traction. “You know the worst thing about moving on?” he said. “Agriculture is just now starting to get fun.”

That excitement over biotechnology is now morphing into the same enthusiasm Begemann has for digital agriculture. “I am more excited today than even in the early days of biotechnology,” he says. “Digital agriculture will change our industry for the better, even more than biotechnology did.”

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