Dicamba Molecule - Putnam Sentinal

PUTNAM COUNTY — “No Drift Zone.” Anybody driving through farmland virtually anywhere in the nation, including Putnam County, have seen these words emblazoned on signs planted in the verge adjacent to fields. They serve as a warning to neighboring farmers: here are crops sensitive to some pesticides.

Though nothing like a rarity, these signs seemed to sprout in abundance this past spring and early summer, in no small part a consequence of a relative new-comer in terms of pesticides: Dicamba, a highly volatile herbicide that is linked to crop loss on millions of acres of American farmland.

In 2016, agricultural giant Monsanto released — by many accounts prematurely — dicamba-resistant cotton and soybean seeds in an effort to maintain its market share after the identification of so-called “superweeds”; weeds that developed a resistance to Roundup, virtually destroying the marketablility of its Roundup-resistant seeds. However, dicamba has presented the industry with its own set of problems.

The issue with the herbicide, as identified almost universally by weed scientists, is its volatility, a propensity to — for lack of a better term — evaporate and drift onto neighboring fields where it damages or kills any vegetation not genetically modified to resist the chemical.

Responding to criticisms and concerns expressed by ag scientists, Monsanto asserted the problem wasn’t with the pesticide, but with the farmers, with the chemical’s application.

Weed scientists in all of the agricultural states where soybeans and cotton are common crops, largely disagree.

“We’re all pretty convinced there’s a volatility issue that’s really hard to control,” said Dr. Mark Loux with the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at The Ohio State University. “Monsanto’s position is, oh, we just retrain everybody and it’s all training and that’ll take care of it. The weed science community largely disagrees with that because volatility is something that’s just a lot harder to control, if you even can. Monsanto’s choosing not to admit — and BSF and Dupont — are choosing not to admit that they really have volatility issues when most of the weed science community and most of the industry out there are looking at it and going, ‘This doesn’t look like problems with misapplication; this looks like something a little bit different going on.’”

While the bulk of reported complaints about dicamba are registered in states further west, such as Arkansas — where legislators are considering banning the use of dicamba altogether — the Ohio Department of Agriculture has fielded more than a handful. Loux reports, to date, the ODA has received 27 formal complaints from farmers concerned about damage to what he referred to as “a low estimate” of 15,000 acres in Ohio alone.

At the heart of this inability to come up with a concrete number is a natural inclination on the part of many to resolve conflicts without introducing any governmental regulatory agency into the mix. Rather than look to outsiders, neighbors work out the problem between themselves. Such is certainly the case in Putnam County.

According to Beth Scheckelhoff, Putnam County AGNR Extension Educator, several cases of dicamba drift have come to her attention with farmers calling with concerns about an identified malady in their fields.

“We had it to a small degree here in Putnam,” Scheckelhoff acknowledged.

Yet none of these cases were ever officially reported. Farmers went along to get along, resolving their conflicts internally.

“In many cases that’s what happens, especially if the farmers know one another,” Scheckelhoff said. “Most people don’t want to cause a rucus. They don’t want to cause ill will with their neighbors.”

And while that kind of attitude is admirable on a small scale, it provides little insight into why affected states — other than Arkansas — are taking such little action in the matter. For that explanation, Loux recommends reviewing Monsanto’s aggressive stance on the issue.

Earlier this year, after Arkansas legislators banned use of dicamba after mid-April, Monsanto filed suit against the state.

“Monsanto will go after anybody, basically,” Loux said. “The states are all petrified now. States like Illinois and Tennessee that should be probably doing more than they are — and Missouri — are not because look what’s happening in Arkansas. Monsanto’s making everybody miserable.”

Even so, and despite Monsanto’s litigious behavior, new restrictions have been implemented. “(The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA are) revamping some of the label requirements for dicamba,” Scheckelhoff said. “It’s now going to be a restricted use pesticide, which means that people will have to have a license to be able to spray it, so it’s not something that just anybody can go and spray if they want to.

“There’s an issue with droplet size, so you have make sure you have the right components on the sprayer; make sure you have the right sprayer tips, that you’re applying at the right pressure and then you also have to pay attention to wind speed.”

Having said that, Scheckelhoff added the following caveat.

“Where the dicamba issue is getting a little tricky is that all those conditions might have been right, but still, depending on air inversion issues that might have been a factor, it still drifted off into another field where you really couldn’t anticipate that,” she said.

Dr. Loux will make a presentation on dicamba during Agronomy Night beginning at 6 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the Kalida Knights of Columbus Hall. For more information, contact the extension at (419) 523-6294.