ABERDEEN, S.D. - The year 2018 could be good for dicamba, or it could be bad.

Experts talking about both scenarios at the South Dakota Precision Agriculture Conference in Aberdeen, S.D., organized by South Dakota State University Extension, drew about 175 registrants. About half of those were students from Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D., and South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D.

"If the label is followed and we don't have a lot of off-target movement in 2018, if that's possible with these new formulations of dicamba, we can have success moving forward with this product in 2019 and farther," said Gared Shaffer (pronounced GAR-ed [hard "G"] SHAY-fer), extension weeds field specialist with South Dakota State University Extension.

But he added: "If we have a lot of complaints, lawsuits, a lot of damage to non-dicamba-tolerant plants, the label could be pulled easily by the Environmental Protection Agency and have more restrictions" in South Dakota.

Shaffer thinks dicamba beans will account for 60 to 70 percent of South Dakota's soybeans in 2018. Many of the non-dicamba-tolerant beans hit by off-target dicamba appeared to have a 2 to 15 percent yield reduction, but the way the chemical volatilized there was no "control" for researchers to compare.

SDSU agronomy scientists recommended a June 21 cutoff date for post-emergence application of dicamba on beans and urge farmers to get weather information at "boom height" as the label requires, but also to get information from the closest National Weather Service station or a "mesonet," system, such as SDSU's Mesonet. SDSU also recommended applying the chemical "as low as possible," compared to the 15 mph limit on the federal label, but 5 mph on the borders. Recommendations can be found at iGrow.org.

Buck stopping

Mike Jaspers, South Dakota secretary of agriculture, didn't add significantly to the federal labels for South Dakota, unlike Minnesota and North Dakota.

Jaspers told conference goers that he'd use his powers to change the spraying rules for dicamba herbicide if farmers farther south seem to have problems with it in 2018.

"If we're seeing drastic issues ... in southern states, well ahead of application time, we can make adjustments at that time if we need to," Jaspers said.

The state is in the midst of a rules-making process that could make all stand-alone dicamba products in the state to be "restricted" use.

"The main reasoning for that is to take the temptation, I guess, to utilize a non-labeled dicamba product on a dicamba-tolerant soybean crop. If we didn't make them all restricted use you could get around the licensing requirements and record-keeping as well," Jaspers said.

Jaspers said it is not yet clear whether farmers who buy that seed intend to spray it or simply have it as a "backup weed control plan."

Jaspers said dicamba accounted for the bulk of chemical application complaints to his department in 2017 and that he expects more issues in 2018. He said farmers have tried to use dicamba as a "one-size-fits-all" application, the way they did Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide nearly 30 years ago.

Jaspers noted that the growth stage can vary within the state, and the R1, or first reproductive stage, ranges from "the last part of June to the first week in July" - a range of 10 days to 14 weeks. He said focusing only on the date is not sufficient and said farmers need to plan other options.

It isn't right

"R1 for whom?" Jaspers said. The label only applies to the target crop, not an off-target crop. "But that's the one we're worried about," he said.

Charlie Edinger lives at Mitchell, S.D., and crop-farms in the Plankinton, S.D., Mt. Vernon and White Lake area. He planted a mix of 40 percent dicamba-ready beans in 2017, along with Roundup-ready and conventional beans. Edinger ended up applying dicamba on only a third of his dicamba-ready beans last year, in part because he became aware of farmers inadvertently damaging non-dicamba beans in states farther south. Edinger says he likes the technology and is pleased with increased training and awareness required by the federal label. But he thinks reported problem acres last year were "understated" and still fears the volatility issues aren't solved.

"Hopefully, they use this product early in the season, and not wait until mid-June or the end of June where the label says you must stop," he says. "Unfortunately, I'm fearful some farmers will do what they don't want to do, and that some things will happen off-label."