EPA Details Dicamba Damage

EPA Publishes Dicamba Damage Report, But Says Label Changes Unlikely in 2022 Season

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA released a report detailing widespread dicamba injury incidents in 2021 but said the agency cannot move fast enough to make changes to dicamba use in 2022. However, the report is likely to feature significantly in a pending lawsuit asking a federal court to vacate the current dicamba registrations. (DTN file photo by Pamela Smith)

This article was originally posted at 3:35 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Dec. 21. It was last updated with additional information at 5:13 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Dec. 21.


ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- EPA released a report on Dec. 21 detailing widespread alleged dicamba damage from the 2021 season but said the agency cannot move fast enough to make regulatory changes to dicamba use by the 2022 spray season.

"The regulatory tools that the Agency could use to address the extent and severity of the alleged dicamba related incidents are unlikely to be fully implemented by the 2022 growing season due to the statutory processes the Agency is required to follow," the EPA's summary of its report stated.

But in the report, EPA promised to help states "restrict or narrow the over-the-top uses of dicamba" if state officials found it necessary for over-the-top herbicides XtendiMax, Engenia and Tavium. The agency also said it would not allow states to expand the use of dicamba for next year.

The 73-page report from EPA paints a harrowing picture of the 2021 spray season, from dicamba resistance emerging to thousands of reports of alleged dicamba injury to soybean fields, specialty crops, research fields, public lands such as wildlife refuges, and private property such as gardens and residential landscaping.

Although the agency says it cannot act on these problems by 2022, the document is likely to be seized upon by environmental groups, led by the Center for Food Safety, which are suing EPA and asking a federal court to vacate the current dicamba registrations of XtendiMax, Engenia and Tavium, just as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did in June 2020. (See more on that lawsuit here: https://www.dtnpf.com/… and the 2020 court action here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….)

EPA's newly released report states that the agency's 2020 dicamba label changes for those three over-the-top dicamba herbicides have failed to diminish the level of reported incidents of off-target dicamba movement and injury.

"Despite the control measures implemented in EPA's October 2020 dicamba registration decision, the 2021 incident reports show little change in number, severity, or geographic extent of dicamba-related incidents when compared to the reports the Agency received before the 2020 control measures were required," the EPA's report summary stated.

The agency said it received approximately 3,500 dicamba-related incident reports from 2021, including reports of alleged injury to more than 1 million acres of non-dicamba-tolerant soybean acres, as well as other crops such as sugarbeets, rice, sweet potatoes, peanuts and grapes. The agency also described damage to non-agricultural landscapes, such as a 160,000-acre wildlife refuge, and called out 280 incident reports in counties where endangered species are present.

EPA said these reports are likely an underestimation of the true number of dicamba-related injury incidents. "Based on prior research and numerous stakeholder meetings, EPA has reason to believe the number of incidents reported significantly understates the actual number of incidents related to dicamba use," the agency stated. "For example, in a 2020 memo, EPA estimated that one in 25 dicamba incidents was reported to EPA. No evidence available to EPA suggests that underreporting has changed."

"Given the new information from the 2021 growing season, EPA is reviewing whether over-the-top dicamba can be used in a manner that does not pose unreasonable risks to non-target crops and other plants, or to listed species and their designated critical habitats," the agency concluded. "EPA is also evaluating all of its options for addressing future dicamba-related incidents."

The environmental groups currently suing EPA over its 2020 dicamba registration released statements in the wake of the report, criticizing the agency's inaction before the 2022 season.

"EPA admits dicamba has caused -- and is continuing to cause -- widespread drift harm, despite its and Monsanto's previous assurances," said George Kimbrell, legal director for the Center for Food Safety. "It admits that it is now unsure whether dicamba can be used in a manner that does 'not pose unreasonable risks' to other farmers' crops, the environment, and endangered species -- exactly what it must be sure of to register the pesticide. Yet at the same time, EPA is refusing to cancel its approval. This cowardice is contrary to EPA's core legal duties and will leave farmers and the planet unprotected for yet another damaging year in 2022. Once again EPA is requiring public interest organizations and the courts to do its job for it, and we will be asking the court to do just that."

Agricultural commodity and farm groups also reacted swiftly to the report, raising concerns about the source of EPA's data on alleged dicamba injury and the report's implications for continued dicamba use.

"It is not clear whether complaints were submitted to multiple sources/regulators and were therefore double-counted," said a news statement released on Dec. 21 by the American Soybean Association, the National Cotton Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. "It is unclear if EPA, state regulators, or others investigated complaints to verify injury or assess potential causes."

The groups' statement included a quote from Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall, warning that "(t)he stakes are simply too high to make major label changes without due diligence from EPA to learn all the facts surrounding reported incidents."

In an emailed statement, BASF, the registrant of Engenia herbicide, said it was reviewing the report carefully.

"BASF is currently reviewing the 2021 summary assessment and other information posted today by the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, Biological and Economic Analysis Division (BEAD) concerning over-the-top dicamba products like Engenia herbicide," the company statement read. "While our evaluation is still preliminary, there appears to be significant data in the assessment we have not previously seen. We reserve the right to confirm purported facts and to challenge the conclusions drawn by EPA in its own assessment and by others as reported in meeting minutes. We are encouraged that the EPA has confirmed that it is not planning any label changes for Engenia herbicide nor planning to pursue product cancellation, giving growers and applicators confidence to finalize their plans for the 2022 season."

Bayer, the registrant of XtendiMax, also released a statement to DTN, saying: "We are reviewing the information posted today by the EPA. We appreciate all the efforts made by growers this year to complete the pre-season training and implement the new EPA label requirements, which we believe helped the vast majority of XtendiMax herbicide users succeed with weed control and on-target applications this season. XtendiMax herbicide is a vitally important tool for growers, and we look forward to helping growers have a successful 2022 with the technology."

See the full report from EPA here: https://www.regulations.gov/….

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

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Emily Unglesbee