EPA Mulls Dicamba Changes

EPA Weighs Changes to Dicamba Use, But Offers No Timeline for a Decision

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA is no longer certain it can defend over-the-top dicamba use against lawsuits, given another season of off-target dicamba injury complaints. But the agency refuses to commit to a timeline for a decision on dicamba use moving forward. (DTN file photo by Pamela Smith)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- EPA is concerned about continued reports of off-target dicamba injury in the 2021 season and is considering changes to the most recent 2020 registrations of the dicamba herbicides XtendiMax, Engenia and Tavium.

But don't ask the agency when that decision might come.

"EPA has not yet made any decision regarding altering the 2020 dicamba registrations," said Meg Hathaway, a senior regulatory specialist within EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP).

The agency is "sensitive" to the urgent need for states and farmers to know what dicamba use will look like in 2022, but there are "too many variables" at play for the agency to commit to the timing of a decision, added Ed Messina, director of the EPA's OPP. The EPA is in active conversations with the registrants on this topic, and at least one registrant has already submitted potential "mitigation measures" that could be added to current dicamba labels, Hathaway said.

Their comments came during a meeting of the State FIFRA Research and Evaluation Group (SFIREG), where state pesticide regulators meet with EPA and industry to hash out current pesticide issues. For the fifth year in a row, dicamba was a major item on the agenda for the group's annual meeting, held Dec. 6 and 7 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Both Messina and Hathaway stated that EPA is not sure that it can continue to defend the 2020 dicamba registration against a lawsuit that the agency is facing from environmental groups. Led by the Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, the federal lawsuit argues that continued dicamba use poses unacceptable risks to the landscape, including endangered species. Amid the large number of 2021 off-target injury complaints in states like Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, EPA is also reviewing incidents of dicamba injury in counties with endangered species, Hathaway said.

"The agency is no longer certain whether over-the-top dicamba can be used in a manner that is protective of listed endangered species, critical habitats and non-target plants," Hathaway said. "Furthermore, EPA is concerned that off-target incidents may increase litigation risk for the dicamba registrations. ... If the data demonstrate that 2020 control measures are insufficient, the agency can take appropriate regulatory action to address unreasonable adverse effects."

Messina specifically addressed recent rumors in the industry that EPA was going to cancel the dicamba over-the-top registrations imminently and abruptly. He suggested a cancellation was unlikely to occur in that manner, reminding state regulators that the cancellation process for a registered pesticide is a complicated, two-year process for EPA.

"That being said, we do have significant concerns about the ability for us to continue to make arguments in the ongoing litigation," he said, referring to pending lawsuits against the agency's 2020 dicamba registration.

Ultimately, EPA is trying to avoid a repeat of what happened in June 2020, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit delivered a harsh rebuke to EPA over its 2018 registration and vacated the registrations of three dicamba herbicides overnight, Messina said. "We are happy to work with the registrants about additional mitigation measures, but when you look at the (2021 off-target) incidents and you look at where they are, when you know that we need to defend (dicamba use) across the country ... we are examining our ability to continue to defend it," he said.


The agency is still actively reviewing incoming data on the 2021 dicamba use season, Hathaway and Messina said. EPA has conducted two listening sessions, one with academic and Extension weed scientists and USDA in August and one with state pesticide regulators in September. The minutes of those meetings will be formally added to EPA's public docket on the 2020 dicamba registrations soon, Hathaway said. The agency also sent out letters demanding that dicamba registrants obey their statutory requirement to report all adverse incidents involving their herbicides, which are currently posted in the public docket.

See more on that here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

During the SFIREG meeting, state pesticide regulators from Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota reported large numbers of off-target dicamba injury complaints this past growing season, despite the 2020 label changes.

Minnesota regulators, in particular, were overwhelmed by 115 dicamba injury investigations and 185 additional reports of injury not requiring an investigation, said Brad Beaver, the acting bureau chief for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, who spoke on behalf of the EPA Region 6 states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In his written comments, Beaver reported that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's laboratory was overwhelmed with dicamba residue samples and, for the first time ever, will be unable to process all the samples collected during the past season.

Beaver also reported that Illinois had 179 misuse complaints, up 19% from 2020, despite the revised labels and the state's June 20 cutoff date.

"I think one thing we've seen in our state is a kind of dicamba fatigue," Beaver told the SFIREG attendees, noting in his written comments that state inspectors are experiencing burnout, and some are retiring earlier than expected in response to the situation. "Everybody is pretty worn out in the states that have dealt with this on a daily basis, not only from the regulators' standpoint, but also from the applicators' standpoint and the complainants' standpoint as well. So, we're definitely looking for some direction from EPA moving forward."

Multiple state regulators also urged EPA to allow states to resume creating Section 24(c) special local needs labels for dicamba moving forward. Last year, EPA announced it would no longer accept Section 24(c) labels that were more restrictive than the federal label, but then also refused to approve Section 24(c) labels for dicamba that expanded the federal label, too.

Some suggested that not having this option in 2021 made dicamba off-target injury complaints higher. Specifically, in Beaver's written report, he stated that Minnesota officials felt that the lack of a Section 24(c) label option "handcuffed their ability to regulate dicamba."

However, EPA officials in the meeting reiterated that the agency would rather states go through their own rulemaking or legislative processes to restrict pesticides beyond the federal label.

See more on that situation here: https://www.dtnpf.com/… and here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

See more on SFIREG and the recent meeting here: https://aapco.org/….

See the EPA's public docket on the current dicamba registrations here: https://www.regulations.gov/….

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

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

Emily Unglesbee