Editors' Notebook

Dicamba Countdown

Greg D Horstmeier
By  Greg D Horstmeier , DTN Editor-in-Chief
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As early-order seed buying approaches, the fate of the dicamba/Xtend weed control system rests with EPA. There's no shortage of handwringing about whether EPA will: Allow the current dicamba label to stand; modify use rules slightly -- as the agency did in late 2017 to no real effect; or make more drastic changes such as allowing only pre-emergence or spring-only applications.

Many farmers who have weed issues, and seed companies focusing on Xtend varieties, are pressing for the status quo.

Bayer, which just took the official reins of Monsanto, the registrant of Xtend crops, also must have a touch of anxiety on the EPA outcome. A chunk of the company's $66 billion bid for Monsanto, and the willingness to jettison other in-house products to clear regulatory hurdles, was based on the expected revenue from herbicide/seed trait packages like Xtend and dicamba.

Then there's the group calling for major dicamba label revisions, some going as far as wanting the system banished. Many weed scientists, owners of vineyards and other sensitive crops, park managers, homeowners, and even some farmers who want the freedom to plant non-Xtend varieties without off-target damage, all are pushing for significant changes to the labels on new dicamba formulations.

Also in the camp calling for significant label changes, as DTN Staff Reporter Emily Unglesbee discovered recently, are Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seeds.

In her story, "Soybean Trait Battles," Unglesbee reveals that both Beck's and Stine have publicly voiced concerns about the growing use of in-season dicamba applications caused by the widespread use of Xtend soybeans. (https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

Sonny Beck, CEO of the seed company that bears his name, sent a recent letter to EPA requesting the agency allow only pre-plant applications of dicamba in order to limit the off-target damage to non-Xtend beans and other sensitive crops.

In his letter to EPA, Beck also wrote about dicamba and Xtend seed being a short-lived solution because unfettered use was bound to create the kind of weed resistance we've seen in other herbicide/trait packages.

That's an issue we've written about as well, but so far it's been mostly lost in the he-said-she-said arguments over whether dicamba moves off target on its own and whether all that volatility can be controlled by applicators taking another test.

It's clear Beck's and Stine Seeds are well-positioned to benefit from any new regulations that curb the widespread combo of Xtend soybeans and dicamba applications. As Unglesbee outlined in her story, those two companies have multiple herbicide tolerant traits either in their current seed catalog or in breeding programs.

That positioning has earned them, especially Beck, a round of potshots on social media questioning their support for seeds other than Xtend.

If you know much about the seed business, you know that Sonny Beck and Harry Stine are smart seedsmen. But to suggest there's something untoward in their motives is getting a bit far out on a limb. The two could not have more different personalities. Yet, both the soft-spoken Beck and the colorfully irreverent Stine have earned high respect for their business sense, their straight-shooting demeanor, and their broad concern for agriculture. When one of them speaks, people usually take note. When both of these elder statesmen of seed line up on an issue, folks would be smart to pay close attention.

As I write this, the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association announced its suggestions to EPA, which included an application cutoff date and mandatory crop reporting ahead of any commercial application. You can learn more about that in Pam Smith's story "Suggestions to EPA Filed." (https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

We suspect there will be similar announcements and letters to EPA in the coming days and weeks. Hopefully, some truly workable solutions can be found to allow us to get the sorely needed benefits of this technology without the unprecedented chemical trespass issues we've seen the past two seasons.

Greg D. Horstmeier can be reached at greg.horstmeier@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @greghorstmeier

(ES/AG)

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