EPA Gets Limited Dicamba Data

As Dicamba Injury Complaints Rise, States' Communication With EPA Declines

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Dicamba injury allegations are reaching new heights in some states this year, but -- unlike last year -- EPA is not regularly polling states on their dicamba investigations and experiences this summer. (DTN photo graphic)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Once again, most major soybean states are dealing with a deluge of dicamba injury allegations this summer, with at least one already reporting a record level of complaints.

But, unlike last year, the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs is not getting routine updates from state regulators on these injury reports. Last year, representatives from the federal agency participated in weekly conference calls with state pesticide regulators on dicamba injury complaints and investigative findings throughout the summer and fall. EPA officials also visited multiple states to tour dicamba injury and hold public forums on the topic.

This year, this regular communication and canvassing has dried up.

"We haven't been asked to provide any information to U.S. EPA headquarters," said Doug Owens, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Programs at the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which has fielded more than 450 alleged dicamba injury reports, up nearly 40% from last year and a record for the state. "I know last year, we reported to them every week with weekly conference calls. We're not participating in that this year, and no information has been requested."

This experience was echoed by other states, including Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota. (State regulators from Nebraska did not respond to DTN's inquiries.) While most states are making informal reports on their experience with dicamba to the representatives in their regional office of the EPA, the national Office of Pesticide Programs, which oversees the dicamba registrations, has had little to no direct communications with most state regulators on this issue. Only the Arkansas Department of Agriculture reported sending 2019 injury statistics to EPA headquarters recently.

In an emailed statement to DTN on July 31, an EPA spokesperson said the agency was still working with states to "determine the extent and frequency" of communications on dicamba injury in 2019. But, with the spray season mostly behind them, state regulators told a different story.

Leo Reed, president-elect of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) and pesticide licensing manager for the Office of Indiana State Chemist, said the last time EPA communicated with the Indiana agency on dicamba injury was the previous crop season. "They've not reached out to the state chemist office specifically on that topic since 2018," he said.

At a state regulator meeting in June, members of the State FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group (SFIREG) said EPA had drafted a one-time dicamba survey for states to submit at the end of the 2019 season, in lieu of the weekly calls conducted in 2018. However, state regulators demanded more information on the purpose of the survey, noting that their efforts to communicate dicamba injury to EPA in 2018 had resulted in few substantial changes to the dicamba registrations. Since those concerns were voiced, EPA has been silent on the topic of a survey or any dicamba information-gathering. "We were trying to determine what the results would be -- how will the information we collect be used?" explained Reed. "And no one at EPA responded. And that's the last we heard of that."

Other than Arkansas's recent report, the only routine source of information on current dicamba injury complaints coming into EPA headquarters appears to be from the registrants of dicamba herbicides -- namely BASF (Engenia) and Bayer (XtendiMax). Both companies told DTN they were reporting their dicamba inquiries to EPA on a monthly basis. As of July 31, Bayer had fielded 126 inquiries on alleged off-target dicamba movement, with BASF reporting just 29 inquiries as of Aug. 19.

State regulators and farmers are reporting far more problems.

"It's as bad, if not worse, than last year," estimated Reed, whose Indiana office is investigating 113 dicamba injury complaints, nearing 2017 and 2018 levels. Because dicamba-tolerant soybean acreage increased significantly in the state this year, investigations tend to be more complicated this year, Reed added. "Instead of one injured soybean field and one applicator to investigate, in some cases, we've got one bean field and five potential applicators," he said. "The investigators coming in and dropping off samples are just beat. They're tired and working their tails off with no end in sight."

In Illinois, dicamba injury complaints soared later than usual in the season, from mid-July into August.

Earlier this summer, the Illinois Department of Agriculture extended the state's June 30-cutoff date for dicamba applications to July 15 to help growers control weeds in late, June-planted soybean fields. As a result, applicators were spraying dicamba later than normal, during the hottest, most humid days of the summer, Owens noted.

"Of the 652 pesticide misuse complaints we've received, 456 are alleged dicamba, and we've gotten three-quarters of those within the last three to four weeks," Owens said. "I think most of the dicamba went on between July 1 and July 15 -- and so that's about two to three weeks out when people started seeing the damage and then making the decision to report it."

The situation has produced a staggering workload for an agency that was accustomed to only receiving around 100 pesticide misuse complaints in an entire year, before dicamba-tolerant crops were introduced.

"We're going to have come up with some ways to try to redistribute the fieldwork," Owens said. "We have some investigators with more than 150 cases to investigate."

In Iowa, state regulators have received 235 pesticide misuse complaints, of which nearly 100 allege injury symptoms consistent with plant growth regulator herbicides, such as dicamba or 2,4-D, said Gretchen Paluch, chief of the pesticide bureau at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). "I am not aware of routine calls on dicamba injury this crop season with EPA," Paulson said. "IDALS continues to provide updates to our Regional EPA contact -- EPA Region 7 Office."

The Missouri Department of Agriculture, which is still reviewing dicamba injury cases from 2017, is one of the only states contacted that is processing fewer complaints this summer, with 60 alleged dicamba injury cases amid 122 pesticide misuse complaints. "According to the information provided by complainants, Missouri may have more than 10,000 acres of soybeans, residential gardens, fruit trees and ornamental trees damaged this growing season," said Sami Jo Freeman, public information administrator for the MDA.

In Arkansas, which instituted a May 25-cutoff date on dicamba use, the state's Plant Board is investigating 191 dicamba injury allegations and 27 allegations of 2,4-D injury. "The work load is very similar to last year in regards to cases and types of complaints," said Brett Dawson, public information manager with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture is sending monthly updates to both EPA headquarters and the state's regional EPA office on 2017 and 2018 dicamba case investigations, said Dawson. The agency also recently sent along a summary of its 2019 pesticide investigation statistics, he said.

Like the rest of the states contacted, Arkansas regulators are prepared to hand over more comprehensive dicamba injury data they collect this year to EPA -- should the agency ask for it. "The Association of American Pesticide Control Officals (AAPCO), which ADA is a member of, agreed to give the EPA state dicamba information near the end of September, when an official request has been received," Dawson noted.

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(PS/SK/BAS)

Emily Unglesbee