Farmers gear up for new dicamba use

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Like other Upper Midwest soybean farmers, Mike Loyland is happy that he has a new tool to fight weeds. Also like other area farmers, the Thompson, N.D., producer knows the newly approved formulation of the herbicide dicamba r...

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Like other Upper Midwest soybean farmers, Mike Loyland is happy that he has a new tool to fight weeds. Also like other area farmers, the Thompson, N.D., producer knows the newly approved formulation of the herbicide dicamba requires greater-than-usual care.

"It's good we have this. Now, to use it properly, we'll have to continue to be vigilant,' says Loyland, who also raises other crops, including potatoes, that can be hurt by dicamba drift.

He's not alone. For months, at farm shows and in meetings with agronomists, chemical salespeople and extension specialists, farmers across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota have been evaluating the pros and cons of dicamba - and preparing themselves to use it correctly.

"It's the hot topic of 2016-17" for soybean farmers, says Jerry Schmitz, a Vermillion, S.D., farmer and president of his state Soybean Association.

Soybeans, corn and wheat are the three major crops of the Upper Midwest. Most farmers in Minnesota and the eastern and central Dakotas grow soybeans, and their popularity continues to spread north and west.


Applying chemicals to fight weeds in crops is commonplace in the Upper Midwest. Even so, dicamba use in soybeans "isn't business as usual," says Andrew Thostenson, North Dakota State University Extension Service pesticide program specialist.

"We're asking people to take measures that are well above what's been expected to date. The level of application and precision that's expected and required is higher than what we've seen on other products," he says.

The new dicamba formulation is on a two-year probation by the Environmental Protection Agency, further increasing the importance of applying it properly.

Thostenson's assessment: "It's a useful tool, a needful tool. My apprehension is the learning curve. How long will it take for applicators to get up to speed on this?"

Despite his apprehension, he's also confident that farmers and other applicators will figure things out.

"I have the utmost pride and positive view of our applicators. I think they have incredible capability," he says.

Farmers faced a similar learning process, albeit on a smaller scale, with Roundup Ready products in the late 1990s, and they came through it well, Thostenson says.

Old product, new formulation


Dicamba has been used for many years in wheat and corn. It helps to control weeds by causing them to grow abnormally and often to die. More recently, dicamba-tolerant soybeans were developed because of growing weed resistance to glyphosate, a widely used herbicide. Experts stress the need to use an assortment of herbicides and other tactics against weeds.

Late last year, the EPA approved short-term registration for a new dicamba formulation that can be used on dicamba-tolerant soybeans. Monsanto, BASF and duPont are all selling versions of it for the 2017 crop season.

Monsanto estimates that its formulation will be used on 15 million acres of soybeans this year, with a similar formulation for cotton applied on 5 million acres.

The soybean registration is effective in 38 states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. It will expire on Nov. 9, 2018, two years after it was first approved, if EPA decides there have been too many problems with its use.

The new dicamba formulation for soybeans will be applied later in the growing season, and in greater doses, than the longstanding use of the herbicide in wheat and corn. As a result, drift from the new formulation can hurt other crops, including non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans, sugar beets and potatoes, unless label restrictions are followed very carefully.

Just reading and following label restrictions isn't sufficient, either: Applicators also need to read and follow online updates on company web sites.

Study and implement both the label restrictions and online updates - or don't use the new formulation, experts say.

The do and don't list includes the following:


• Aerial application isn't allowed.

• Ground-speed application can't exceed 15 mph.

• Sprayers must be cleaned meticulously.

• The spray boom must be no more than 24 inches above target.

• Follow restrictions on what crops can be planted the year after application.

In the news elsewhere

Thousands of acres of soybeans were damaged last year by dicamba spray drift in Missouri and some other states, and legal actions are ongoing. An Arkansas farmer faces murder charges for shooting a neighbor who confronted him about dicamba drift damage.

The crop damage was caused by farmers who illegally applied old dicamba formulations, not the new ones approved by the EPA. The new formulation is less volatile and less likely to drift, especially when used properly, experts say.


Ryan Rector, Monsanto's dicamba technology development manager, says his company's new soybean formulation wasn't available or applied last year, so he can't comment on what happened in 2016.

The EPA says, "When used according to label directions, dicamba is safe for everyone."

Thostenson and others in ag note that homeowners have used dicamba for years to control dandelions and other weeds in lawns.

Monsanto's take

It's unclear if the joint read-the-label, read-the-website requirement for the new dicamba formulation is unique. But the twin stipulation is definitely unusual.

EPA recognized during the registration process last year that more and new information about the product would become available this spring and summer, Rector says.

"EPA wanted us to have the website," Rector says. "It's really meant to be an extension of the label (and) to house the most up-to-date information."

Monsanto has worked with its own sales groups and also its retail partners to train and educate customers about the new product, and that will continue through the growing season, Rector says.


"If you have questions about it (proper application), call your extension personnel or retailer or agronomist," Rector says. "The last thing we want is for folks to take a guess at what they should be doing."

He's optimistic the product will be popular and successful.

"There's definitely a lot of excitement around this. Folks understand the value of dicamba," Rector says. "I'm looking forward to it and think we will have a lot of good experiences this year."

'Cup of coffee'

Soybean farmers say they welcome the new dicamba formulation.

"I am very excited about having another tool to protect the health of my growing crops," Schmitz says.

Weeds, like other living organisms, adapt to their surroundings and naturally develop resistance to the herbicides that farmers use. Dicamba gives soybean farmers another option that can limit that resistance, he says.

He uses a baseball analogy to describe the new formulation.


"I feel kind of like a pitcher at a baseball game. If the pitcher always throws the same type of pitch time after time, the hitter adapts and is prepared for what's coming. But when the pitcher employs a wide variety of pitches and can change from a fastball to a slider, he has a tremendous advantage," Schmitz says.

"That's how weed control works. Farmers need several options to choose from," he says.

As for using the new formulation properly, Schmitz cites "the seven Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance and Potential Problems."

"I have been learning and preparing all winter and continue to do so," he says.

By adhering to the guidelines, farmers will have "a very safe, successful and rewarding experience with dicamba," he says.

Schmitz also says farmers "need to be over-cautious to make there is no drift no matter what."

Theresia Gillie, a Hallock, Minn., farmer and president of her state Soybean Growers Association, also praises the value of dicamba to soybean producers.

"It's a great tool to add to our toolbox," she says.

She stresses the importance of good communication between farmers who apply dicamba and their neighbors to minimize the risk of drift damage and potential legal action.

"It's so important to talk about this with your neighbors. A cup of coffee costs a lot less than a lawyer," she says.



Crops at risk

Upper Midwest farmers grow many crops, which are susceptible in varying degrees to dicamba drift. Here's how North Dakota weed scientists rate the threat to different crops:

• Low susceptibility: small grain, canola, corn, flax, millet, triticale.

• Moderate susceptibility: alfalfa, buckwheat, safflower, and tomato.

• Very high susceptibility: chickpea, dry bean, field pea, grape, lentil, sunflower, potato, non-dicamba-resistant soybean, and sugarbeet. Non-dicamba-resistant soybeans, unlike the dicamba-resistant ones, haven't been bred to stand up to the herbicide.


Three products available

Three companies - Monsanto, BASF and DuPont - are all selling their own dicamba products. Each product is a little different, and proper use of one varies from proper use of the others. All three products require that their web site, which provide updates to the label information, be reviewed before the herbicide is applied.

The web sites are:

• Monsanto, .

• BASF, .

DuPont, .

2230847+Corn and Soybeans WillardiStockphoto.jpg
Rows of corn and soybeans next to each other in a sunlit field on a summer day

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