Dicamba Actions

Monsanto Challenges Arkansas Ban, Praises Indiana's RUP Move

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Monsanto is threatening legal action if Arkansas implements an in-season ban on dicamba herbicides, such as the ones being sprayed on this Illinois farm in 2017. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Monsanto showed what it will tolerate, and what it won't tolerate, when it comes to states' reactions to the 2017 season's unprecedented dicamba drift damage complaints.

The St. Louis-based company on Thursday said it has filed an aggressive petition to the Arkansas State Plant Board, demanding it reject the state's proposed in-season ban on dicamba herbicides within 30 days or risk legal action.

That response contrasts with the company's newly announced take on actions in Indiana. The state recently said it is completing the process to make dicamba a restricted use pesticide, keeping the herbicide available in 2018, albeit with restrictions on purchasing and use. Monsanto indicated it was now supportive of that restriction and similar actions in Missouri and Tennessee.

In the meantime, the entire industry is awaiting an expected decision by EPA on new federal guidelines or regulations for dicamba herbicides next year, in light of more than 2,200 dicamba-related injury state investigations concerning more than 3.1 million acres of dicamba-injured soybeans.

ARKANSAS PETITION

In August, an Arkansas state task force on dicamba twice recommended that the state plant board and governor pass an in-season ban on all dicamba herbicides, by halting all applications after April 15.

Monsanto doesn't mince words in its petition to reverse this proposed ban, calling it unscientific, "arbitrary," "short-sighted" and "skewed."

In particular, the petition concludes that the widespread damage reports in Arkansas -- 963 as of Sept. 1 -- are an "aberration" that need further investigation and will likely not affect soybean yields at the end of the year.

"We're anxious to take these crops to harvest throughout the U.S. and see what type of experience these growers really have," Scott Partridge, Monsanto's vice president of global strategy, told DTN.

The petition insists that volatility was not the primary cause of physical drift, citing Monsanto's own studies, and points instead to herbicide contamination, illegal use of older dicamba formulations and applicator errors.

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"Our experience this year shows us that at least 77% to 80% of off-target movement as reported by those who applied the [dicamba] product was the function of not following critical aspects of the label," Partridge said. "The top three causes were insufficient or nonexistent buffer zones, wrong nozzles and incorrect boom height -- all of those can be corrected."

The petition also stresses that Monsanto's dicamba herbicide, XtendiMax, was not permitted for use in Arkansas in 2017 and thus unlikely to blame for any of the damage there. (BASF's dicamba herbicide Engenia, was used in the state.)

The petition also explicitly questions the integrity of some of the independent researchers who testified at Arkansas task force meetings in favor of a ban, including University of Arkansas weed scientist Jason Norsworthy and Ford Baldwin, a crop consultant and former University of Arkansas weed scientist.

The petition ends by threatening legal action if the Arkansas Plant Board denies the petition at the end of its 30-day review period.

"If the administrative process plays out, and the result is still arbitrary, the next body to review this would be a court," Partridge said. "We will wait to see what Arkansas does and hope it will be in the interest of Arkansas farmers."

See the Monsanto petition here: http://monsanto.info/…. See Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley's letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson here: http://monsanto.info/…. See other documents related to the Monsanto petition here: http://monsanto.info/….

INDIANA'S PATH

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, the Indiana Pesticide Review Board cast a unanimous vote on Aug. 30 to classify dicamba as a restricted use pesticide in 2018. The move, which requires approval from Indiana's attorney general and governor, will restrict the purchase or use of dicamba herbicides to licensed applicators and retailers, said Leo Reed, pesticide licensing manager for the Office of Indiana State Chemist, the state's pesticide regulatory agency.

Monsanto much prefers this type of state action, Partridge told DTN. "It will require greater training and education, and we are all in favor of that," he said. "We support states that will encourage education and training and access to dicamba."

BASF echoed that sentiment: "We feel that whatever measures Indiana adopts for the 2018 use season, it is important for growers to get Engenia herbicide's full benefits, and therefore, we will be as flexible as possible to make that happen," BASF media relations specialist Odessa Hines told DTN in an email.

The RUP classification will mostly affect farmers who do their own spraying, Reed told DTN. State commercial applicators are already licensed, and the vast majority of pesticide retailers in the state are already restricted use retailers, he explained.

"If a farmer wants to spray this pesticide, and they are not a credentialed private applicator, they need to begin that process immediately," he said of Indiana growers.

Indiana's RUP decision includes all herbicides with a dicamba concentration of 6.5% or greater. That includes not only new dicamba formulations such as Monsanto's XtendiMax and BASF's Engenia herbicides, but also older, more volatile formulations on the market.

The Office of Indiana State Chemist is hopeful that the new rules for dicamba will limit misuse of the product, by forcing applicators to go through continual education and training, Reed said. So far, the agency has received 121 complaints about dicamba drift in the state.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the most complicated pesticide label -- other than fumigants -- that EPA has ever registered," he said. "That's got to be part of the issue."

Under the new RUP classification, would-be Indiana applicators will have to take a proctored exam to receive a five-year permit to spray dicamba herbicides. During those five years, applicators are required to either re-take the exam annually or go through the re-certification process, Reed explained.

"Once we get them credentialed, we can get them into a continuing education program and we're already working with Purdue Pesticide Programs to do just that," he said. Applicators will also be required to keep and maintain detailed records of any dicamba applications for two years.

See the Indiana restricted use pesticide proposal here: http://bit.ly/….

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

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_unglesbee

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Emily Unglesbee