MAX, N.D. — A new label law involving dicamba herbicide effectively will prevent Galen Scheresky from spraying dicamba formulated herbicides close to field borders on soybean fields in his area of northwest North Dakota. It will put a “stranglehold” on his ability to serve clients, many of whom he sold seed to go with the chemical he now can’t spray.
He’s not alone.
A new Environmental Protection Agency map for 2021 shows seven counties in North Dakota with an endangered species designation, 10 counties in South Dakota, 10 counties in Minnesota, 12 counties in Iowa and several in Nebraska listed.
In the week of Jan. 10 Scheresky’s Bayer CropScience field representative was in the Scheresky AgService Inc., offices and explained the changes, listing areas for new restrictions on in-season use of the products, often requiring 300-foot plus buffers to protect so-far unnamed endangered species.
“We sold a ton of Xtend beans,” Scheresky said. “A lot of the Xtend beans we’ve sold for various companies are Xtend. We have some non-Xtend beans, too, some Enlist ones, but in the end the farmer wants that capability, if he’s buying an Xtend bean, to use that technology.”
It’s up to the farmer to decide whether he actually uses the chemistry that his beans are designed for.
Duran Vigesaa, operations manager, supervises Scheresky’s logistics.
“Our main weed problems are on those borders. All of a sudden we can’t clean up those weeds, we’re going to create a massive resistance problem we won’t be able to fix. We’ve wasted this nice chemistry almost shooting ourselves in the foot,” Vigesaa said.
He said a workaround is “double the time and double the cost” for his company and its clients.
“Time is money,” he added.
Andrew Thostenson, a North Dakota State University Extension Service pesticide application specialist in Fargo, hadn’t heard about the new endangered species designations until Jan. 19, when approached by Agweek.
“It is there,” he said, after inspecting the EPA online documents. He said that in 2019 and 2020 there were no endangered species limitations for North Dakota, even though there were for some counties in Minnesota and South Dakota. Additional counties have been added in those states. (Illinois had 27 counties listed in 2020. Some counties were removed or added for 2021, but Thostenson has not been able to see the justification for them or for North Dakota designations.)
“It didn’t dawn on me until you alerted me about this that it could be an issue,” Thostenson told Agweek.
The way Thostenson reads it, farmers in the new designated counties must establish an “omnidirectional spray buffer” of 57 feet — regardless of wind direction. There are exceptions, like adjacent dicamba-resistant soybeans, roads, buildings, etc.
Thostenson, who leads training for crop consultants and applicators, said the buffer increases by another 310 feet with downwind buffers, within the field unless you can add in some other areas — a total of 367 feet.
“When you have a ‘downwind situation’ in these particular counties, you need to have a 367-foot in-field, spray drift buffer on the downwind side. You can count certain things as part of your buffer but they’re very limited,” he said.
“That’s the real rub," he said. "There are only certain things that count in that buffer, and are different than in the regular label. If you have roads, whether paved or gravel, mowed grassy areas adjacent to the field (headlands planted to grass between field and roadside) you could count that as part of your buffer.”
Additionally, farmers can count “bare ground” from recent plowing or grading that are contiguous to the treated field. The footprint of grain elevators or other buildings could be counted.
“Some planted agricultural fields that count (as buffers) — dicamba-tolerant cotton or soybeans,” he said. Grassy hay could be counted as a buffer if recently mowed. “All other crops may not be used.”
Those include spring wheat and land in the Conservation Reserve Program, but also crops that could be used as a buffer in counties not included in the designation. Corn and millet would be allowed in the regular label.
“You could no longer count corn, for example. It really, really reduces the number of crops next to you you can count in your buffer,” he said. “That is really, really difficult.”
Thostenson said there is a notation for use of "hooded sprayers,” in the country, but those would allow farmers to reduce the “additive” buffer to 240 feet, instead of the 310 feet. So with the 57-foot regular requirement in the area, the special sprayers would allow a total 297 feet, he said, and cited analysis from Aaron Hager, a University of Illinois.
Thostenson said the EPA documents supporting the change were signed Oct. 26, 2020, under EPA senior scientists Michael Wagmna and Frank Farruguia.
“From a practical perspective, it’s very difficult for farmers and applicators to fully implement these buffers,” Thostenson said. “The (North Dakota) Department of Agriculture will be under enormous pressure in those areas to do any enforcement actions.”
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said his department is still evaluating the change, which comes under the Trump administration, although some people are leaving the administration.
Goehring said his department had established the “first endangered species plan in the U.S., which, among other things, meant EPA would contact the department of any future listings."
“What is strange about this: We didn’t even get a call,” Goehring said, noting that his agency is the one that would have to enforce the regulations on the ground. He didn’t know what species the EPA is trying to protect and has expressed our “deep, deep concerns” about it.
“We’re challenging the maps they have that don’t align with what we have for endangered species zones, or areas,” he said.
Angry, upset farmers
All of this is anathema to Scheresky, who focuses on customer service.
Scheresky, 48, grew up at Max, N.D., and farms with his wife, Bonnie. Scheresky graduated high school in 1990 and went on to graduate in agricultural economics from North Dakota State University, while Bonnie graduated in animal science. He worked for six years at First International Bank and Trust at Fessenden, but returned to farm. Scheresky has been raising soybeans on his own farm since the early 2000s.
In April 1999, the Schereskys established Scheresky AgService Inc. Both became certified crop advisers. Their independent service covers much of McHenry, McLean and Ward counties. They employ 15 people full-time and another 10 to 12 part-time.
“We stay mostly north of Lake Audubon. The lake is kind of a boundary,” he said.
They have more than 100 clients, operating 70 miles west and 30 east, and 40 miles to the north and south. They take in communities of Butte to Parshall and up to Minot and Velva.
The company started small but today has three sprayers, two spreaders, as well as fertilizer, seed, chemical and full-service agronomy and crop-scouting.
“We’ve seen soybeans getting dirtier and dirtier (with weeds) and more kochia coming into the area,” Scheresky said. “As we seed soybeans on soybeans, there’s more kochia that comes through the second year.”
Because of the glyphosate-resistant kochia weed “slip-throughs” in the last few years, his sales staff has pushed more and more Xtend beans
“One of the biggest problems I have with my customers is — I don’t know if I should say this — is how the state of North Dakota, and how Extension … were so paranoid to spray Xtend on Xtend beans,” he said.
Scheresky said technology is helping farmers better use the technology. A smartphone app tells farmers when temperature inversions are coming on, a phenomenon that allows the chemical to “volatilize” and drift off-target.
“If you go into spraying dicamba using the proper technologies, from the proper adjuvants, label technologies . . . and not spray in stupid winds, you can do an excellent job on Xtend,” Scheresky said.
Thostenson, who has been an Extension official who has identified volatilization issues and the effect of inversions and drift, said the existing rules would be hard on applicators and farmers in the designated counties.
“If you don’t use a ‘pre-’ (emergence herbicide), you don’t stand a chance of controlling these weeds from a practical perspective. You’ve set yourself up for a huge failure, or set yourself up for ignoring what the label requirement says,” he said.
The counties affected
These are the counties that are affected by new Environmental Protection Agency rules that require a bigger buffer strip for dicamba formulations: