EPA Registers Dicamba Again

EPA Approves Three Dicamba Herbicides With Federal Cutoff Dates

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA granted five-year registrations to three dicamba herbicides with a June 30 cutoff date for soybeans and July 30 cutoff date for cotton. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Jim Patrico)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the agency's long-awaited decision approving three dicamba herbicides for use over-the-top of dicamba-tolerant Xtend crops in 2021 and beyond.

On a Tuesday evening press call, Wheeler stated that EPA has granted five-year registrations to two canceled dicamba herbicides -- XtendiMax and Engenia -- as well as a re-registered dicamba herbicide, Tavium. All three now require a nationwide June 30 cutoff date for use in soybeans and a July 30 cutoff date for use in cotton, regardless of growth stage. The agency also announced it is limiting states' ability to add further restrictions to the federal labels.

Here are some additional details for the new registrations:

-- The required downwind buffer is increased from 110 feet to 240 feet, and up to 310 feet in areas where endangered species are located.

-- Applicators must use (and document their use of) available pH buffering agents to lower the volatility of dicamba tank mixes.

-- The use of hooded sprayers during application may reduce certain buffer requirements.

-- Applications will still require the same wind speed, sprayer speed and time-of-day limitations as the 2018 labels.

-- States will no longer be permitted to use Section 24(c) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act to further restrict the federal label; they must instead work through Section 24(a) of FIFRA to do so, which requires individual state regulatory or lawmaking processes, a senior EPA official stated during Wheeler's press call. Section 24(c) will only be used for expansions of the federal label.

See the full labels for the three herbicides in this EPA docket: https://beta.regulations.gov/…. A fourth dicamba over-the-top herbicide, FeXapan, was not included in this registration decision.

Wheeler stated that the new label changes should address problems with the original 2018 registrations that were cited in a federal court's opinion vacating three dicamba herbicides -- XtendiMax, Engenia and FeXapan -- on June 3. The court ruled that, in that original registration decision, EPA failed to take into account the herbicides' risk of adverse effects to the environment, based on Xtend crop acreage, years of dicamba injury complaints and overly complex labels that encouraged noncompliance.

The judges also took EPA to task for ignoring the anti-competitive nature of the 2018 registration, given that some farmers plant Xtend to protect themselves from neighbors' dicamba applications, as well as citing the "social cost" of the herbicides' use, such as strained neighbor relationships and even one murder that occurred over dicamba injury in 2016.

Many of the additional label requirements for dicamba herbicides released Tuesday are not new to the industry.

State pesticide regulators have urged EPA to implement a nationwide cutoff date for dicamba herbicides for the past three years, although they recommended an earlier season date. The Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) first formally recommended this strategy to EPA in 2018 (see story here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…) and again in the spring of 2020: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

State pesticide regulators are sure to object to EPA's announcement that Section 24(c) cannot be used to restrict dicamba use, as state legislative rulemaking permitted under Section 24(a) is far more cumbersome and difficult to pass. Numerous states have used Section 24(c) as a fast, year-to-year method of further restricting the past federal dicamba labels, including Indiana, where pesticide regulators credited the state's June 20-cutoff date with reducing dicamba injury reports from a record-high 275 complaints in 2019 to 188 complaints in 2020.

Other states continued to struggle with dicamba damage in 2020, particularly Iowa, which recorded a record-high 215 investigations into auxin injury (potentially dicamba), up from a confirmed 83 dicamba injury cases in the state in 2019, according to Keely Coppess, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Missouri state pesticide regulators also saw dicamba injury complaints rise from 98 in 2019 to 120 reports in 2020, according to Sami Jo Freeman, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

The environmental groups that brought the original lawsuit to the Ninth Circuit, which resulted in three dicamba registrations being vacated in June, released condemnations of both the EPA's registration decision and timing, a week before the presidential election.

"Rather than evaluating and addressing the significant costs of dicamba drift as the 9th Circuit told them the law required, it appears EPA has rushed re-approval as a political prop just before the election, sentencing farmers and the environment to another five years (!) of unacceptable damage," George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, told DTN in an email.

"Given EPA-approved versions of dicamba have already damaged millions of U.S. acres of crops and natural areas, there's no reason to trust that the agency got it right this time," added Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Meanwhile, ag industry and commodity groups expressed relief at the registration decision, which had left Xtend crop growers in limbo as they waited to hear if there would be legal dicamba options in 2021.

"The economic damage that would result from not being able to use dicamba herbicides would be tremendous," said Kent Fountain, chairman of the National Cotton Council. "We greatly appreciate EPA's timely issuance of a new five-year label for this critical crop protection product for cotton producers."

The American Soybean Association said it is still reviewing the full details of the registration but is pleased with its initial review. "The American Soybean Association (ASA) appreciates that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will reregister dicamba for 2021 and future use," the group stated in its news release. "The product is one of many tools integral to the success of soy growers who face different crop production challenges throughout a diverse growing region spanning 30-plus states."

CFS's Kimbrell vowed fresh legal challenges of this new dicamba registration in 2021, guaranteeing that dicamba will remain a hotly contested technology.

"The Center for Food Safety will most certainly challenge these unlawful approvals," he wrote.

This is a developing story. Continue to follow www.dtnpf.com as we analyze the full dicamba registration decision from EPA in the days to come.

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

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Emily Unglesbee