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Perry Ostmo of Sharon, N.D., surveys his Roundup-ready soybeans -- 12 inches tall in the foreground -- were susceptible to a dicamba herbicide applied to his neighbor's chest-high fields, just behind him. He thinks some of the unabsorbed chemical volatilized and drifted onto his beans like a cloud. Photo taken July 31, 2017, at Sharon, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Farmers deal with dicamba drift

SHARON, N.D. — Perry Ostmo doesn't blame the "local guys" — the neighbor or the applicator for damages to his soybeans this year. He doesn't even want to be too hard on BASF, the company who developed a chemical formulation he thinks is important but needs improvement.

Ostmo is a board member of the North Dakota Soybean Council. His views do not represent the council, which has not taken a position on dicamba.

Dicamba formulations also are produced by Monsanto and Dupont, in addition to BASF. Several states, including Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, have placed restrictions on when and how it can be used due to the possibility of drift and volatility.

Ostmo believes the herbicide applied to the soybeans next to his soybean field somehow "volatilized" and spread like a cloud over his soybeans, curling the leaves and stunting their growth.

"We all get along," Ostmo says. But he thinks something should be done to prevent a kind of spray drift that can happen a day or even two days after the actual spraying, even if applicators have followed the labels.

The neighbor's dicamba-resistant beans are waist-high and green, flourishing in early August, while his are a foot tall. He thinks some might yield only 5 or 10 bushels per acre, rather than at least 30 bushels an acre he expected.

Puzzling pieces

Dr. Richard Zollinger, a North Dakota State University extension weed specialist in Fargo, N.D., says he's getting a daily stream of calls from people — farmers, crop consultants, county agents — reporting problems. It's too soon to draw conclusions, he says.

Zollinger says he's working to set up a reporting system, either through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, or through NDSU's AgDakota listserv. A survey could be up and running in the next week or two.

Jeff Gunsolus, University of Minnesota extension weed specialist, on Aug. 1 in his blog announced a similar survey effort to collect information on dicamba damage to beans so the public can indicate acres, fields, and counties that may be involved.

"The big unknown in fields presenting dicamba injury symptoms will be dicamba's impact on soybean yield," Gunsolus says. He says sensitivity of non-Xtend soybeans to dicamba makes injury symptoms not reliable indicators of yield loss.

A North Dakota survey would allow an indication of location and the kinds of injury. Zollinger thinks yield loss won't be known until harvest and may be confused by other phenomena, such as a "rapid-growth syndrome," or hormone-type symptom that glyphosate could produce.

Chemical manufacturers BASF and Monsanto both created new formulations. The products and application recommendations were carefully geared to avoid "particle drift." Zollinger says he's heard of academics in southern states doing tests to see whether "volatilization" explains damage on some acres.

15 percent damaged

Ostmo planted 1,400 acres of soybeans and thinks 200 are damaged due to the volatilization drift. He also planted 300 acres of barley, 700 acres of durum wheat and 500 acres of spring wheat.

His beans are "plain Roundup Ready" — genetically-modified soybeans to be resistant to glyphosate herbicide but not to dicamba. Ostmo's beans were planted May 25, and applied with a pre-emerge herbicide shortly after.

The neighbor planted some of the new dicamba-resistant soybeans about two weeks earlier. He'd hired a commercial applicator to spray a dicamba product in early July.

Two weeks later, Ostmo's crop scout consultant called his attention to leaf-curling.

"The stunting had taken place — kind of a dull color, not the nice green ones like my neighbors had," he says. They took plant tissue samples to freeze for later verification. He contacted the applicator who "admitted that some of that drift was theirs." BASF officials came to look.

'Obvious' damage

"It was obvious that some of it was maybe 'direct drift,' but most of it was volatilization," Ostmo says, describing the phenomena where the applied herbicide evaporates from the leaves and drifts in a kind of a cloud, off-target.

"The volatilization probably went for a half-mile to a mile away," he says. It seemed "pretty clear where it hit" because he could see "lines in the field where the volatilization ended, and the unaffected soybeans stood next to them."

In the first week of August, Ostmo can't predict how much yield will be affected by the damage. He's had to spray for weeds because the volatilized drift herbicide affects mostly beans. He's sprayed to control a second flush of weeds, and tank-mixed with an insecticide to kill heavy infestation of soybean aphids.

"I'm not worried about (compensation)" Ostmo says. "We'll come to some agreement," but he doesn't say with whom. He thinks the chemical manufacturers should be more at fault from the volatilization than anyone.

On the other hand, Ostmo says farmers need the new chemistry.

"We have to take that into consideration. If they control the volatilization, it'll be really popular. Until then there's going to be a lot less of those beans seeded," he predicts.

If applicators are held liable for damage from volatilization, "applicators may just refuse to spray it next year," Ostmo says. "I know one local applicator who hasn't sprayed any yet, and he won't spray them, and he's glad he didn't."

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