Letters to the Editor

Don't Restrict Farmers' Access to Critical Weed-Control Tool

To the Editor:

As a farmer whose family has raised soybeans, corn, and pumpkins for the last 50 years, I know first-hand how narrow the margin can be between a successful season and a devastating one. In 2020, the global COVID crisis and its effects on economies and supply chains had already given farmers plenty to worry about. Then the Ninth Circuit vacated the EPA's registration of three over-the-top weed control products that use the herbicide dicamba. Now, we are waiting on the EPA to re-register dicamba-based herbicides just as farmers are trying to decide what soybean and cottonseed to purchase for next season. Taking dicamba away could hardly have come at a worse time. We need dicamba more than ever and we need it back now.

In a growing season already at risk, handcuffing our ability to control weeds will affect millions of acres nationwide and threaten the livelihood of everyone who farms them. The yield losses from this court decision could approach 50 percent for some farmers -- which could mean a $10 billion hit to the soybean industry and about $800 million lost to the nation's cotton farmers. Not to mention suddenly losing the value of everything farmers have invested in the seed, herbicides, and other tools that are designed to work together -- more than $4 billion overall, according to an amicus brief (https://soygrowers.com/…) submitted by a coalition of national farm groups.

There are a lot of views on this issue, but none more close-up than mine. We raise soybeans in Peoria County, Illinois, and we take our responsibility to manage the land seriously. This is the time of year when growth is robust, and the power of agriculture bursts forth before your eyes. But we know that not all green is created equal: The crops we grow help feed the world, power our nation's economy, and sustain our families' livelihoods. The weeds that grow alongside them have the opposite effect. Without control, weeds enjoy all that robust growth at the expense of my soybeans and other crops. And without safe and effective tools like dicamba, everything our farms achieve is at risk.

Fighting weeds is nothing new. Any backyard gardener knows how troubling they can be, and how important it is to take them on using just the right tools. Only the stakes are higher when the crop represents someone's livelihood. The trouble is, this is becoming a losing battle for farmers. Over time, weeds become resistant, and the tools to combat them have to evolve. There are currently 17 U.S. species of weeds that resist glyphosate herbicides, and they affect farmers in at least 38 states. Most of the neighbors and other farmers I talk to will tell you that glyphosate-resistant weeds are increasingly becoming the biggest threat to their businesses.

On our fields, I've applied dicamba products safely for many years. This isn't something we just "buy and apply." It's part of a system that's been thought through from beginning to end: The herbicide is designed to work with specific herbicide-tolerant crops and control specific weeds. They are brought to the market only after years of research, farm trials, and reviews by universities and regulatory authorities. Because it's effective, we can control weeds with fewer passes and use less herbicide overall. The people who make the products don't just sell them to us; they actually work with the EPA to create best practices and label requirements, train farmers in the proper use of the product, provide technical support for correct application methods, and partner with us to help responsibly steward our land. In my experience, if there have been problems related to dicamba use, they've happened when the product is misapplied -- not because of the product itself.

The fact that dicamba is one part of an integrated system of cultivating and protecting specific crops means there is no direct replacement for it waiting in the wings. Make no mistake: For farmers, this isn't an order to switch to a different method of weed control. It's an order to stop controlling weeds.

The EPA must quickly move forward to re-register dicamba-based herbicides to ensure the long-term sustainability of farms and businesses like mine. Farmers are already planning and investing in crops for next season, so we need to know now if we will be able to rely on dicamba-based products next year. And because a re-registration of dicamba products for 2021 is so important, our voices are important too. Farmers and our partners in the food chain understand what's at stake, and we understand the facts about modern herbicides. The regulators and lawmakers who control the fate of this issue need to hear from us -- because there's no doubt they'll hear from other people who don't understand the issue the way we do.

I'm one voice, but there are tens of thousands of cotton and soybean farmers in the same position I'm facing. Farmers are the ultimate stewards of the land, and we operate on thin margins in normal times. Traditional hurdles like weather, pests, and market uncertainty are trouble enough without the dual cost of lost yields and lost investments. Getting through 2020 this way will be challenging enough. Making the challenge permanent could be a disaster.

Bob Wieland

Peoria County, Illinois

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