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EPA Considering Ban on Dicamba Spraying in 2018

In the wake of this summer’s widespread damage to soybeans and other crops caused by the unintended drift from applications of the weedkiller dicamba, Reuters reports that EPA regulators told state officials that they are considering a ban on use of the herbicide after a cutoff date early next year. The idea would be to limit spraying to early spring, before soybeans emerge from the ground.

The EPA discussed a deadline for next year’s sprayings on a call with state officials last month that addressed steps the agency could take to prevent a repeat of the damage, four participants on the call told Reuters. More than 3.1 million acres of soybeans were damaged by dicamba drift this summer, accounting for 3.5% of U.S. plantings, according to the University of Missouri. In Arkansas, a task force has advised the state to bar dicamba sprayings next year after April 15.

Monsanto, DuPont, and BASF all sell dicamba, and Monsanto also markets Xtend, a dicamba-tolerant soybean seed. A ban would cut into sales. “If the EPA imposed an April 15 cutoff date for dicamba spraying, that would be catastrophic for Xtend; it invalidates the entire point of planting it,” Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst for investment management firm Bernstein, told Reuters.

Monsanto spokeswoman Christi Dixon told Reuters on August 23, the day of the call with the EPA, that the agency had not indicated it planned to prohibit sprayings of dicamba herbicides on postemergent soybeans. That action “would not be warranted,” she said. The EPA had no immediate comment.

The chemical companies have claimed that improper use of the weed killer by farmers is to blame for the crop damage. According to call participants, the EPA also discussed the possibility of “enhanced training for dicamba users; tighter restrictions on when and how the herbicides can be sprayed; and the possibility of reclassifying the products so the general public could not buy them.”

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