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Between 600 to 700 farmers attended a BASF-led training for dicamba after the Northern Corn and Soy Expo in Fargo on Feb. 13, 2018. It is one of a series of newly mandatory training for applicators of a herbicide that caused a lot of off-target impacts on neighboring soybeans and other crops in 2017. Photo taken Feb. 13, 2018, in Fargo, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Command performance - Dicamba training draws a crowd

FARGO, N.D. — Dicamba herbicide use and regulations are some of the hot topics at the first Northern Corn and Soybean Expo, an event inaugurated by the North Dakota Corn Growers and the North Dakota Soybean Council at the Fargodome.

"Putting Our Best Foot Forward Using Dicamba," was the cheery-sounding topic addressed by Kirk Howatt, an associate professor of weed science at North Dakota State University, in one of the break-out sessions, hosted in the comfortable "Theater" room where the national champion Bison football players study game films.

Howatt said new label requirements for 2018 that will help reduce damage to neighboring non-dicamba crops in coming years. The chemistry is good at controlling tough weeds, Howatt said, but he indicated the tendency to volatilize and impact neighbors' non-dicamba soybean fields is still a possibility.

The visual damage in 2017 alarmed farmers and has forced national and state regulators to tighten up rules for 2018 and beyond.

Howatt said new mandatory training for dicamba is a challenge. One person in his lecture came forward to say he didn't know that new dicamba training was required. "Even if you have your commercial applicator license, you also need to get certification that you have attended training using these dicamba formulations," he said.

Not optional

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture website has a listing of all of the regional training sessions and others are happening in Minnesota and South Dakota. The states are acknowledging reciprocity, so farmers can take the training wherever it is offered.

"There is a higher level of inquiry, a higher level of expectation for using these dicamba formulations registered in soybeans," he said.

More than 600 farmers attended mandatory training — a two-hour lecture on the topic, in a session at the Fargodome on the heels of the Expo. Officials from BASF led the training, which was largely a two-hour lecture, after which attendees signed in. Applicators also must be state-certified for restricted use pesticide applications.

Some in the audience said they attended the training even though they didn't plan to use dicamba beans. "Just in case," said one western Cass County farmer, who declined to be identified by name.

Howatt said NDSU officials believe the state had a 25 to 30 percent adoption rate for dicamba soybeans in 2017. Next season there may be enough dicamba seed nationally to cover half of the acres. He isn't sure what the percent would be in North Dakota.

He said in some areas where damage occurred, some farmers want to use the technology for its own sake, but others will adopt it as a defensive measure. 'Even if people have purchased it because they're thinking defensively there's going to be a strong draw for them to actually take advantage of the technology."

Among the issues farmers will have to deal with in 2018:

• The label requires a 24-inch maximum boom height. "I know that applicators are commonly above that because of travel speeds and other things," he said. That's going to be difficult to reach but it reduces the potential for off-target particle movement of the spray.

• Slower travel speed. "We have nice equipment advances to allow us — maybe not always the best situation — to drive faster. But with the newer rigs people can drive faster, but they would be restricted to 12 mph if they are applying dicamba products that are registered in soybeans." (Minnesota allows 15 mph.) There are "not a lot of people with speed cameras out in the fields," he acknowledged, meaning there will be pressure on applicants.

• North Dakota has instituted a cut-off date of June 30 for applying the herbicide, but also restricts it to applying chemical after the plant reaches the R1 phase, or the beginning of the reproductive phase. NDSU officials had recommended not applying it after June 20, which is the case in Minnesota. Soybeans are much more susceptible to damage after they reach the reproductive stage, triggered by the summer solstice, which occurs on June 21.

• Ammonium sulfate is sometimes mixed with glyphosate (Roundup) and other herbicides to reduce the antagonism with hard water. But ammonia residue that remains in the tank increases the volatility of dicamba. "One of the new label requirements is to actually clean the sprayer tank multiple times before the dicamba is put in the tank," Howatt said.

Dicamba forms crystals if it dries but is a salt so it dissolves in water. "If we had a rain event large enough and long enough, we might be able to get the residues washed off of plant and into the soil where the volatility potentially would be greatly reduced," Howatt said.

The dicamba molecule is broken down by microbes. "Even with the high use in soybean, where we do have some soil residual benefit, we have not ...been able to demonstrate damage to the next year's crop," he said.