JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- Tony Benz waved a brown, expandable file folder before the Missouri House of Representatives Agricultural Appropriations Committee. "This is an example of just one average investigation," he said of the 3-inch-thick folder.
Benz, the Missouri Department of Agriculture's director of legislative affairs, was called on Wednesday, Oct. 12, to update the committee on the 124 formal dicamba-related complaints the department received this past summer. Most of the allegations involve off-label applications of dicamba herbicide that drifted onto and injured sensitive crops and plants.
Missouri representative Craig Redmon, R-Canton, scheduled the hearing on Oct. 12 to determine progress on the complaints and to flush out possible other actions the state should take regarding use of the herbicide. "My main concern is this situation is being addressed and injured parties are seeing action taken. We also want to review how we might manage this situation to avoid a repeat before farmers head to the field next spring," Redmon told DTN.
The clock is ticking as soybean and cotton growers face placing early seed orders. Three of the largest seed suppliers, Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta, as well as many licensees, plan to sell dicamba-tolerant soybean varieties, branded as Roundup Ready 2 Xtend, for planting in 2017. Cotton acreage planted to dicamba-tolerant varieties is also expected to expand in the coming season.
Although the Xtend varieties are approved for planting, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to sanction a dicamba-based formulation to be used postemergence on those crops. Current dicamba registrations for use on cotton and soybeans are restricted to preplant and postharvest burndown applications.
On Thursday, the American Soybean Association (ASA) and members of the National Cotton Council announced they had met with Jim Jones, the assistant administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the EPA this week to push for a decision regarding new dicamba formulations and to ask for tweaks to the labels that would restrict tank mixes. Both Monsanto and BASF have pending dicamba formulations said to have characteristics the companies claim reduce volatility compared to those currently available.
Missouri representative Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, who is also a farmer, voiced his desire that EPA sign off on the new formulations for the coming season. However, he also noted that pricing of those compounds will be critical to make sure cash-strapped farmers don't turn to cheaper, older and more volatile compounds like Banvel and Clarity.
Southeast Missouri, northwest Tennessee and northeast Arkansas have been the hotbed for the off-target and off-label dicamba incidents this year, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an advisory in August indicating similar complaints alleging misuse of dicamba in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.
In September, the Arkansas Plant Board sent a set of proposals to public comment that would include a ban of DMA-salt (Banvel) formulations and only allow DGA-salt formulations (Clarity) between April 15 through Sept. 15 in soybean and cotton. Monsanto's dicamba formulation currently before the EPA is a DGA-based herbicide, and Arkansas' proposal would reduce it to a spring and fall burndown product. DuPont is expected to bring forth a similar herbicide. The state is also proposing buffer zones in all directions for BASF's new dicamba formulation called Engenia.
The Arkansas proposals still require legislative action, but haven't gone unnoticed in Missouri. "I don't think we want to go as far as Arkansas and cut use off by April 15," Reiboldt told the committee. What the legislators did agree on was the need for education on proper application tactics and that Representative Don Rone, R-Portageville, should continue to press for stiffer penalties for applicators that violate pesticide labels.
Rone, who was farming and not available the day of the hearing, responded to DTN by email. He said he plans to set fines at $2,000 for a first violation and to levy a $25,000 fine for using an illegal product. "I've also included a provision to protect the private citizen's private property," he wrote. He previously had indicated he would fast track the bill so it would be in effect before the 2017 growing season.
Meanwhile, the dicamba complaints represent nearly double the number of total pesticide complaints the Missouri Department of Agriculture would deal with in a normal year. Benz told the representatives that plant tissue tests of injured plants had been sent to a lab in Iowa and are still being evaluated. All 124 complaints are open and ongoing.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.email@example.com
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