Daily Dicamba Update: Q&A with Heartland Co-Op’s Dave Coppess

Dave Coppess, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Heartland Co-op, West Des Moines, Iowa, chats about the company’s experience with dicamba-resistant cropping systems in 2017 and the big changes for this year, his views on training – and whether gene editing will bring glyphosate back to its former glory.

Daily Dicamba Update: Q&A with Heartland Co-Op’s Dave Coppess


CropLife: How would you describe Heartland’s experience in 2017 with the new dicamba technologies?

Last year was interesting – that’s the word we use around here. About 2% of our custom application acres were dicamba resistant, so that’s only 22,000 acres that we applied with XtendiMax and a little bit of Engenia. We took a cautious approach: We required the farmer to sign a waiver of liability. This was probably the most complex label I had ever seen in my 40-year career, and we wanted to make sure the farmer understood the restrictions on the label. They needed to understand the complexities we were faced with as certified custom applicators. We upcharged the farmer above our normal rates for dicamba application last year to offset some of the additional constraints in terms of identifying sensitivity areas, equipment hygiene, and some of the other liability we were taking on as a custom applicator. We took a cautious approach, and we didn’t have too many issues. There were a couple of complaints that came in, and we referred them to our supplier.

CL: What about training – do you think it is enough to better prepare applicators and growers to prevent drift issues? What changes did you make in preparation for this season?

The training was adequate that went on through the year. A lot of it was online, and I’m not sure how impactful that is at the farm level. We went around and did a lot of meetings with customers and made them aware that it is a Restricted Use pesticide (RUP), and that they have to have the training if they are going to purchase it from us, and that they need to be aware of label changes as an RUP.  That opened their eyes a little bit further.

At Heartland Co-op, we are only going to recommend a preemerge and a preplant application of dicamba products – we are not encouraging or supporting postemerge. We will, for a hefty upcharge, do the post, but they have to prove that they did a preemerge. We are not going to do many of those if we can avoid it. We are going to do the waiver of liability again and do an upcharge for preemerge applications because of the additional labor required and a higher upcharge for post. We are probably going to spook some folks away, but that’s OK.

We went over a lot of those changes with our customers, and upgraded our application recordkeeping processes and the form that our custom applicators use. We did several extensive training sessions with our custom applicators to help them understand the label changes.

CL: What’s the biggest watchout on dicamba application?

Staying on this label. We have to stay on the label. This whole thing is high on the Department of Ag’s radar, and there will be enforcement people in the market that will be checking us, videotaping us. We found out last year there were folks out running video from a distance away, so we know that it’s going to be very heavily scrutinized. We’re telling our people to take every step to make sure we follow that label to the letter. That means we haven’t got a very big window of application.

Last year, our sales manager calculated that based on the label, we only had 44 hours of application time that our rigs would have been on label. That’s the old label. Now, the new label is going to be even more restrictive, because you can’t apply at night, and wind has been knocked down strictly to between 3 and 10 mph. Last year, you could from apply 10 to 15 mph if you didn’t have any sensitive areas downwind.

CL: It could be that there are even fewer hours for an on-label application this year.

It’s going to be really hard for us to get all this work done. Now we’re on April 11, and we’re just starting to think about getting application worked on. It’s going to be a real race this year. It’s going to be challenging.

The average wind speed in Iowa runs 14 miles per hour. We have an app that we check hourly, and our applicators are going have to check their anemometer regularly to stay on label. Three to 10 mph is very restrictive, and spraying has to be during daylight hours, so I suspect we’re going to have a real challenge staying within that window and getting the amount of acres that are on the books right now. We have about 9,500 acres prepaid and quite frankly, from my chair, I don’t know that we‘ll be able to do a lot more than that.

CL: Do you think we are still going to see more drift issues this year, beyond Iowa, and that maybe we won’t have this product after November 9?

I think we are going to see a lot more traited seed sold as a defensive mechanism against neighbors who would have some issues with application or chemical trespass. I think we’re going to see fewer acres actually treated, by nature of the late spring that we’re in in the Midwest right now and the amount of training that’s going on. I think we’ll see very satisfactory performance by those that do apply it because of the education process that we’ve had this winter.

CL: You said earlier that online training wasn’t ideal at the farm level. Can you explain?

I don’t think online training could emphasize and put the human factor into this. Checking boxes and answering the questions is not going to be as effective as the interaction that goes on between people in a meeting to really define the true concerns and aspects of what’s going on. You just don’t get the interpersonal experience that sometimes is the education process itself.

But, I think training was adequate. Farmers knew about dicamba – they are aware of drift, volatilization, and the whole concept of inversions. I think the training did a good job of creating awareness of the conditions, and equipment hygiene was emphasized well in the training sessions I saw. I think farmers understand they are going to have to manage it differently than the way they’ve managed chemicals in the past.  I think they all want to protect this technology, because we need it for the resistant weeds that are out there – at least until we can get genetic editing that will come in and restructure these existing weeds and make them susceptible to Roundup again.

CL: You think that genetic editing is more likely to happen than introducing a brand new active ingredient?

I’m reading this book called A Crack in Creation – it’s a really interesting read. In one chapter, one of the people that created the CRISPR technology for splicing genes referenced the fact that this could be a potential with this new technology, to re-edit the genes in resistant weeds so they are no longer resistant. Some of the opportunities of genetic editing are phenomenal, and it’s cheap. Monsanto is using CRISPR technology for their gene modification. It’s no longer the GMO; it’s gene editing, and that’s different because you’re not introducing foreign DNA into the cell. You’re actually using the DNA that’s in the cell and mutating it slightly. It’s interesting stuff to read and it is what’s going to affect our future coming down the road. Who knows, maybe we won’t need dicamba resistance if we go back to glyphosate.

CL: Any closing thoughts on dicamba as you see it?

I hope we’re not making a mountain out of a molehill with this stuff. It’s still crop protection. We have greater sensitivity, and we certainly have greater visibility and transparency with what we’re doing today in agriculture, and we have to be responsible for the products we’re using in the market. That’s the emphasis that we made with our farmers is that, look: people are watching. They have a huge responsibility to be good stewards of this technology if we’re going to protect it until better technology is available.

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