(Updates with comments from IFCA, Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta)
The not-unexpected move by U.S. EPA to re-register dicamba for over-the-top use on soybeans and cotton on Tuesday speaks volumes about the huge challenges facing U.S. agriculture.
Effective, economical means to deal with weeds are in such short supply that millions of acres of drift damage and lawsuits are not enough to remove dicamba as an option for growers, who will gain access to the products for the next five years with additional restrictions, including an increased buffer zone and nationwide cut-off dates.
“After reviewing substantial amounts of new information, conducting scientific assessments based on the best available science, and carefully considering input from stakeholders we have reached a resolution that is good for our farmers and our environment,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.
Through the action, EPA approved new registrations for both XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology (Bayer Crop Science) and Engenia (BASF), and extended the registration for Syngenta’s Tavium Plus VaporGrip Technology. These registrations will expire in 2025, “providing certainty to American agriculture for the upcoming growing season and beyond,” EPA noted.
Registration for Corteva Agriscience’s FeXapan was not specified by EPA; however, Corteva will likely provide more information on its status. Registration would be possible following the XtendiMax registration.
To manage off-site movement of dicamba, EPA’s 2020 registration adds several restrictions including:
- Requiring an approved pH-buffering agent (also called a Volatility Reduction Agent or VRA) be tank mixed with OTT dicamba products prior to all applications to control volatility.
- Requiring a downwind buffer of 240 feet and 310 feet in areas where listed species are located.
- Prohibiting OTT application of dicamba on soybeans after June 30 and cotton after July 30.
- Simplifying the label and use directions so that growers can more easily determine when and how to properly apply dicamba.
The 2020 registration labels also provide new flexibility for growers and states, said EPA. For example, growers may reduce the downwind spray buffer for soybeans through use of certain approved hooded sprayers as an alternative control method.
States will also no longer be permitted to use Section 24(c) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act to further restrict the federal label — it may only be used for expansions upon the label. “If a state wishes to expand the federal OTT uses of dicamba to better meet special local needs, the agency will work with them to support their goals,” EPA said. To restrict the label beyond the federal, states will need to work through Section 24(a) of FIFRA.
Jean Payne, President of Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, representing the crop production supply and service industry in the top U.S.-soybean producing state, said the organization will remain in communication with the Illinois Department of Agriculture regarding any possible additional label changes that it may be considering.
“It is important to remember that there are many stakeholders in Illinois pesticide stewardship issues including non-(dicamba-tolerant) growers, specialty crop growers, and homeowners,” Payne said, noting that in 2020, dicamba-related complaints reported to IDA dropped significantly (149) compared to over 700 complaints filed in 2019. “If IDA desires to seek additional protections IFCA will work closely with them and urge an expedited decision in order to provide clarity to the industry ahead of the 2021 crop year.”
Bayer, BASF, Syngenta Respond
Scott Kay, Vice President of U.S. Crop, BASF Agricultural Solutions, said the need for Engenia herbicide is “greater than ever” before due to increased weed resistance. “When the weeds win, farmers see the impact to their livelihoods, harvests and yields. Controlling resistant weeds is not only a physical challenge for farmers, it also can have a significant financial impact,” he said, adding that it is estimated that certain resistant weed populations can reduce yields by 50% or more. “This means that farmers planting dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans could potentially stand to lose more than $10 billion if they lost access to dicamba-based herbicides, like Engenia herbicide.”
Regarding the registration extension for Syngenta’s Tavium product, the company mentioned that it is a premix containing both dicamba and S-metolachlor, offering growers a tool to manage key ALS-, PPO- and glyphosate-resistant broadleaf and grass weeds at contact and residually.
“Following the unpredictable circumstances this year, growers will be closely looking at their dicamba herbicide options for 2021,” said Pete Eure, Herbicide Technical Lead at Syngenta. “In its first full season in the field, Tavium delivered consistent weed control, crop safety and three weeks longer residual than dicamba alone across geographies in soybeans and cotton. It is the market’s first dicamba herbicide premix, and it remains a powerful and convenient choice for growers next year.”
Lisa Safarian, President of Bayer Crop Science North America, said the company welcomed EPA’s “science-based review and registration decision providing growers access to this important tool. Growers need options, and we are proud of our role in bringing innovations like XtendiMax herbicide forward to help growers safely and successfully protect their crops from tough-to-control weeds.”
“Growers have been clear how vitally important this tool is for their weed-management programs,” said Alex Zenteno, Bayer dicamba product manager. “The EPA’s strong science-based decision and new measures, including the introduction of VaporGrip Xtra Agent, will help growers use the product even more successfully. We look forward to working with growers to ensure they are aware of the new XtendiMax herbicide label and prepared for the upcoming season. We take our stewardship responsibility very seriously, and we will continue to enhance our trainings, resources, and other support heading into 2021.”
Bayer estimates its Xtend soybeans were planted on around 50 million of the 84 million acres of soybeans planted in the U.S. in 2020.
Nonetheless, dicamba’s re-registration for 2021 was not a given, following four years of widespread drift damage to non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans as well as to thousands of acres of vegetables, fruit, gardens, and residential trees — and the negative publicity that came with it in abundance. Even with a five-year registration, the events of the summer of 2020 drove home that legal challenges may still throw that certainty in doubt.
In June, the Ninth Circuit Court in California delivered a shock to the ag community when it vacated EPA’s approval of dicamba products, leaving ag retailers and growers in-limbo mid-spraying season, not to mention the COVID-19-related stresses with which they were already dealing.
Acknowledging growers’ predicament, five days later EPA canceled the labels of the three dicamba products, XtendiMax (Bayer), Engenia (BASF), and FeXapan (Corteva AgriScience), but allowed growers to use existing stocks of the products. Syngenta’s Tavium was unaffected by the Court’s ruling as its registration came after the 2018 decision to which the court case pertained.
New Launches from BASF, Bayer
In connection with the dicamba re-registration, BASF announced it plans to launch Sentris buffering technology and Engenia Prime herbicide. Sentris, which will launch in time for use in the 2021 growing season, is a liquid buffering agent that when added to a dicamba spray solution, will increase and stabilize the solution pH and reduce the potential for volatility. It has also been proven to reduce the potential for tank-contamination by helping with spray system clean-out and hygiene. It will be another tool for farmers to use with their Engenia herbicide application mixes to help minimize the potential for off-target applications, BASF said.
Engenia Prime will offer multiple sites of action and is most effective pre-emergent, to help farmers manage weed challenges while providing application timing flexibility. Engenia Prime is not yet registered for purchase or use and is awaiting EPA approval.
Bayer also has sought registration for a volatility-reducing adjuvant called VaporGrip Xtra Agent to be tank-mixed with XtendiMax.