Making sure the 'Summer of Dicamba' doesn't happen again

Millions of acres of curled soybeans. Hundreds of affected farmers. Strained relationships between neighbors. Insurance companies denying coverage. Huge agricultural chemical companies denying any responsibility.

3744256+dicamba damage - mikkel.jpg
Mikkel Pates/Agweek

Millions of acres of curled soybeans. Hundreds of affected farmers. Strained relationships between neighbors. Insurance companies denying coverage. Huge agricultural chemical companies denying any responsibility.

It seems like an agricultural-themed horror movie, maybe titled, "The Summer of Dicamba."

But it was reality in the summer of 2017, with a stinging effect on dozens of extension agronomists, pesticide regulators and crop consultants and thousands of farmers across the country.

We can't ignore the underlying reason for dicamba use: Farmers want and need new tools to fight weeds, which continue to develop resistance to glyphosate and other herbicides. Dicamba clearly has a role, possibly a major one, in that fight.

Many in agriculture had tried to prepare through training and education. They thought these kinds of widespread problems would be avoided. They were wrong.


We're not trying to assign blame. But this much we know: It is critical that farmers, chemical companies and regulators ensure that the experience of 2017 is never repeated.

In North Dakota, sole responsibility for formulating and enforcing state-specific restrictions lies with North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. Goehring is charged with weighing the interests of chemical companies, farmers who want to use the technology, and farmers with crops injured by off-target dicamba.

Recently, those new rules were announced ( But will those additional requirements forestall a repeat of the fiasco seen in 2017?


Many of the additional restrictions already are federally mandated, including categorizing dicamba as a restricted use pesticide triggering additional purchase, application and record keeping requirements.

Slower sprayer speeds, higher water volume requirements, additional training, restricted hours, more nozzle limitations, temperature maximums and lower wind speed limitations are all designed to reduce misapplication. But it appears the complicated rules are better designed to ensure that any problems can be termed "off label" and then laid at the feet of farmers and pesticide applicators.

A cursory look at 2017 North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network wind speed and temperature data indicates trouble ahead. With the current label, the Carrington NDAWN data indicates only 21 hours during the month of June when time of day, temperature and wind speed would allow application. For the Wishek station, that number is 12 hours. We urge farmers to check this out at your own NDAWN site.

Goehring's proposed cut-off date of June 30 is curious, especially because North Dakota State University weed scientists are going ahead with a recommended a stop date of June 20. Other states recommend even earlier stop dates (Iowa State weed scientists recommend no post-crop-emergence applications at all).


The date restrictions seem to assume there will be damage, because they're designed to reduce the severity of damage to neighboring crops rather than prevent it.

Finally, dicamba is volatile, and soybeans are super-sensitive. Certainly, the newer formulations are less volatile than older products. And the chemical companies, despite ample evidence, deny that any of the problems can be traced to volatility.

The temperature limits may be the only effort that will make a difference in preventing volatility.

As experts stress, no single herbicide or one-pronged approach is a long-term solution. They urge an integrated management strategy, one that combines rotating crops, rotating herbicides, changing tillage practices and even hand-pulling weeds, among other steps.

Yes, agriculture needs to be better with dicamba application. More importantly, it needs to be better and smarter at fighting weeds in general.

With few exceptions, this region's farmers are willing to give grace to their neighbors when

unintentional issues like 2017's off-target dicamba problems arise. No one expected it. No one planned for it. Actual damage was mitigated by timely rains. However, for 2018 and beyond, that grace may be exhausted.

Is it still an accident if it happens again?

What To Read Next
Get Local


Agweek's Picks