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Soybeans hit with dicamba damage have "cupped" and "blistered" leaves, and reduced production from blossoms that die on top, and blossoms that produce two pods instead of three. Photo taken Aug. 14, 2017, near Harwood, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Goehring sets dicamba rules for '18

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring on Nov. 28 came out with new, more restrictive rules for spraying new dicamba formulations in the state in 2018.

For the first time, the state will require training for all individuals actually spraying and will institute a system for pre-informing the state agriculture department of spraying plans.

The much-anticipated rules were released Tuesday morning. Goehring is scheduled to speak about the rules at 10 a.m. on Nov. 29 at the Northern Ag Expo at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D.

Among other things, the rules for "in-crop" spraying of the new formulations include the following:

• Any employee spraying new dicamba chemistry in North Dakota now annually must be certified to "dicamba-specific" training courses. In the past an employee of the organization could take the training and supervise others if the supervisor was within 30 minutes of being on-site. The manufacturers will bear much of the education burden, which will take place in at least a dozen locations across the state, according to North Dakota State University officials, who will monitor the training.

• The new dicamba formulas can't be sprayed "in-crop" (versus pre-emerge) if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts temperatures over 85 degrees for the location "for the day" of application.

• None of the new dicamba formulations can be sprayed after June 30 in the state. Some agronomists and crop professionals had been seeking restrictions for spraying as early as June 1 or June 15.

• Dicamba spraying is limited to one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Earlier, sources say, the department was considering a 4 p.m end time.

• Anyone spraying the formulas while the crop is growing must report in advance their plans — date, times, places and applicator with certification status (commercial, public or private) — to the state agriculture department via phone or website. That system that has yet to be established and will be announced prior to the growing season. Penalties and enforcement are so far undefined. (UPDATE: The North Dakota Department of Agriculture on Monday, Dec. 4, announced a change to the reporting requirement. To learn more, click here.)

• Applicator equipment speeds are restricted to 12 miles an hour or less, equal to federal rules.

• Applicators must use at least 15 gallons of water per acre, using spray nozzles with an 80-degree coverage or more. As in the past, spraying can't be from more than 24 inches above the canopy.

• New protocols only affect applications on soybeans for XtendiMax, Engenia and FeXapan, made by Monsanto, BASF and DuPont, respectively.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency approves a label for any herbicide, and states are free to institute state-specific rules that can be more restrictive but not less restrictive than the national label.

Goehring told Agweek the dicamba regulation issue started in July when North Dakota soybean farmers started reporting suspected crop injury from neighbors applying new formulations of dicamba manufactured by Monsanto and BASF on new soybeans varieties that had been developed to be resistant. (In other formulas, dicamba has been sprayed on cereal grains and corn for 50 years.)

Some of the damage was due to direct spray damage, but farmers and agronomists reported a larger problem came from "volatilization," a situation in which the chemical evaporated from crop leaves and moved in a kind of fog during weather conditions called temperature inversions.

In August, the state ag department conducted a survey, asking whether any perceived damage was associated with other conditions, including drought stress, nutrient or micronutrient deficiencies.

"It was to get the producer to really think about what was going on in their situation," Goehring said.

It is so far unclear how much yield damage occurred from the alleged drift problems. Drought conditions that made damage more apparent were offset by timely rains in August that perked up soybean crops, mitigating damages.

Lower humidity

Goehring said he commiserated with colleagues in other states and with the manufacturers or "registrants." He said North Dakota is the farthest west and farthest north soybean producer among 33 soybean producing states. He said the lower humidity conditions commonly found here allow the dicamba formulations to remain suspended particles in the air for longer periods.

The key to the June 30 cutoff date is to ensure that farmers don't spray the chemical after the start of "first bloom," or the R1 (first reproductive) stage. Bloom is typically associated with the shortening of day length, he said. The condition can vary by whether soybeans are long- or short-season varieties, which often are planted in North Dakota. Goehring said some had wanted the cutoff date to be June 1, June 14, or as late as July 4.

The federal label already prevents farmers from spraying after their own R1 date. The cutoff date presumably is designed to reduce effects for neighbors whose non-dicamba soybeans may have reached R1 earlier and would be affected by off-target drift.

Asked about the practicality or enforceability of state spray notification systems, Goehring was confident but unspecific.

"It would be nice if you did it the day before," he said, but acknowledged notice could be done hours before and by a spouse or person other than the applicator. He said that if conditions changed, the information could be updated.

Goehring said the penalty for failing to report would come if there are complaints and a state inspector finds that the producer's actual spray records are not correct.

"Ours is a requirement so we can track how many people have been applying," he said.

Goehring said he has the final say on herbicide labels in the state and acknowledged he's been "catching it from both sides," on how potential rules would be set. "There are people who don't want me to do anything. There are people who say they don't want (new dicamba formulations) at all. Neither one of those are options."

Defensibility

Goehring said he's been aware of restrictions by regulators in other states and lawsuits filed by Monsanto over new rules.

"I wanted to make sure we had defensible positions," he said, adding he'd met with the companies who were concerned about the temperature and date cut-offs. "They understand why we're doing it."

Goehring said the new dicamba formulations are tools farmers need to cope with weed resistance due to the overuse of other chemistries, including glyphosate (Roundup). He said farmers will probably need to get back to a practice more common a decade ago in which they used more herbicides in the pre-emergence phase rather than waiting to use them post-emerge.

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson has said he will announce a decision on dicamba labels for that state in December.

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