ARLINGTON, Va. (DTN) -- State pesticide regulators confronted EPA representatives over the new dicamba registrations for XtendiMax, FeXapan and Engenia in a public regulatory meeting on Monday, Dec. 3.
Officials representing states in the Midwest and South voiced concerns about a second year of overwhelming dicamba injury complaints, as well as confusing language and requirements in the new dicamba labels, during an annual meeting of the State FIFRA Research and Evaluation Group (SFIREG) in Arlington, Virginia.
"The vagueness of some of the terminology on the labels is unfortunate," said Leo Reed, pesticide licensing manager for the Office of Indiana State Chemist. Last year, the EPA consulted with state regulators before releasing its new dicamba labels, he noted.
"It's unfortunate that did not happen this time. You put us in a bad spot in doing that," Reed said.
Dan Kenny, herbicide branch chief for EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, painted a picture of a rushed, overwhelmed bureaucracy leading up to the Halloween night decision to extend dicamba registrations for two years.
Data and information on dicamba continued to stream into the agency through October, Kenny told the state regulators.
"By the time we actually had a decision to propose, it was well into the end of October, and unfortunately we had pretty much run out of time...we were actually running against the deadline for when the registrations expired," he said. "So unfortunately, we were not able to vet proposals with the states as we hoped we would."
The result has been widespread confusion over how to interpret and enforce parts of the new labels among state regulators, even as many still work to finish up costly backlogged dicamba investigations.
A CRUSH OF COSTLY DICAMBA CASES
Missouri state regulators have not even finished processing their 2017 dicamba complaint cases, and do not expect to start reviewing the state's 216 cases from 2018 for nine to 12 months, reported Tim Creger, manager of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture's pesticide/fertilizer program, who serves as a representative for EPA's Region 7 states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska for SFIREG.
Dicamba complaint investigations have also proved extremely costly to states. Reed estimates the Office of Indiana State Chemist spent $1.2 million investigating 141 dicamba complaints in 2018. Creger said
his agency spent over half a million dollars on dicamba response this year, an amount also echoed by Tom Gere, with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.
"I didn't have that in my budget," Creger told EPA. "... Now I'm looking at two more years of the same situation and I can't afford that -- I can't afford it financially and I can't afford it in staff time."
Nebraska's pesticide regulators are facing "a significant erosion of credibility" in the state, because they have had to abandon routine inspections in order to chase down 95 dicamba complaints in 2017 and 106 in 2018, Creger added. "We're at a threshold where we've got to make a serious decision of whether we ignore dicamba and let people get harmed and suffer, so that we can get back to our routine inspection programs that brings our enforcement credibility up," he said.
Reed agreed. "It's untenable," he said of the 2017-18 seasons in Indiana. "We can't continue to go down that path."
The crush of investigations has caused personnel issues, as well, said Creger. "States are losing quality employees, both in the field and in the office, due to the overload of complaints and case reviews," he wrote in his pre-meeting report to SFIREG. For example, the Missouri Department of Agriculture has lost half its field inspectors, and is having trouble rehiring, Creger told the EPA at the meeting.
Some states, such as Illinois, are scrambling to get applicators ready for EPA's new requirement that only certified applicators be permitted to apply dicamba in 2019. EPA is standing by this new regulation, including a controversial section requiring certification even for employees who mix, load or clean dicamba from equipment, Kenny said.
In Texas, this requirement is running into language barriers, said Leslie Smith, an official with the Texas Department of Agriculture's pesticide division.
"It will have a huge impact on a lot of our farmers," she said. "... Some of their workers can't read English well enough to pass the exams, and we don't have exams in Spanish because the labels are in English."
SFIREG is setting up a working group with EPA to clarify this new requirement. But state regulators are running out of time, as many must get thousands of state applicators certified in just a few months before dicamba spraying begins again in the spring.
"I hope the working group can address those issues in a timely way, because states aren't going to have enough resources to train all those folks to have enough qualified applicators," Richard Gupton, of the Agricultural Retailers Association, told EPA.
A number of state regulators also expressed confusion over the new 57-foot buffers in place for dicamba applications in counties with certain endangered broadleaf plant species. EPA is directing all applicators to check a county's status on a website called Bulletins Live (https://www.epa.gov/…), but some have struggled to access the website.
"We found out that it doesn't work with all web browsers," noted Nebraska's Creger, "... And when you find one that does work, it takes an enormous amount of time and broadband width to pull down one of those bulletins."
"Most of our rural areas have to use satellite internet connections," in Texas, Smith added.
Nor does the website specify which endangered species are prompting the need for the buffer, which will likely frustrate applicators, Creger added.
24-C QUESTION REMAINS
EPA continued to waffle on the question of whether or not states would be permitted to use Section 24(c) labels, to make changes to the federal dicamba labels.
Smith said northern Texas cotton producers need to be able to spray beyond the 60-day post-planting restriction. In South Dakota, Gere said, many state agricultural organizations have urged his agency to enact an earlier cutoff date.
When pressed for clarity on whether or not these types of actions would be permitted via 24(c), Kenny said, "I don't have a carte blanche answer for you right now, but I would say that if you're considering 24(c), [Office of Pesticide Programs] is recommending very strongly that you come talk to us."
See more details on EPA's new stance on state use of Section 24(c) here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
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