New formulas may lessen illegal herbicide use
Jan. 23, 2017
Southeast Missouri saw damage to crops from alleged illegal dicamba use last year, but there's hope this time, growers won't see the same problems.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December approved a formulation called Engenia designed by chemical company BASF. Monsanto's Xtendimax was approved in November.
BASF technical marketing manager Chad Asmus said his company's new formulation is less volatile, meaning it is less prone to evaporation and consequently more focused in its effects.
"With the advent of the dicamba-tolerant crops, we developed an entirely new salt of dicamba," Asmus said. "By engineering the new salt, we're able to reduce the volatility of the molecule. ... It has a heavier weight and a stronger bond to the dicamba relative to the DGA dicamba salt."
Michael Aide, Southeast Missouri State University Department of Agriculture Chair, said while a less-volatile herbicide is a welcome development, the availability of appropriate dicamba formulations should go a long way toward solving last year's problems.
Farmers planted dicamba-resistant seeds before corresponding herbicides were approved for use because the seeds were set to produce higher yields even without dicamba, he said. Some farmers illegally used older forms of dicamba anyway.
"To Monsanto's credit, they made every attempt to tell farmers, 'Don't use the old herbicide recommendations because it's not approved yet.' They told the farmers to follow the labels as they currently exist, and if you need any help, call Monsanto," he said. "Some farmers ignored it."
The illegal applications are thought to have caused extensive damage to adjacent crops. In December, the largest peach producer in Missouri sued Monsanto for contributing to dicamba drift.
State Rep. Don Rone of Portageville, Missouri, has filed a bill that would make it illegal to sell seed for which the corresponding herbicide has not been approved.
He also filed a bill to restrict sale of inherently volatile herbicides in general.
Aide said it's difficult to say for certain whether the EPA approvals will solve the problems, but they should help greatly.
"We should be in good shape now the new formula, to my understanding, has been approved and is available to the producers to use. ... There should be no problem because more people will grow dicamba-tolerant soybeans," he said. "Therefore, if they use the new formulation, they should get the effective weed control they desire, and it should not drift to the point where it's going to cause their neighbors an issue."
Engenia, according to BASF, has the lowest use rate of all dicamba products and is easier to use. Taken altogether, the new formulations appear to address most of the factors that contributed to illegal spraying.
Davis Wilcox, salesman for Crop Production Services in Sikeston, Missouri, similarly anticipated the new herbicides would have a positive effect on the industry.
"The perception out there is that there's a lot of farmers looking forward to it," he said. "It's another tool, and lots of people are going to be planting the [dicamba-resistant] seeds."
Many farmers likely will do so for the additional yield capabilities of the engineered seeds, but others will likely will feel they have little choice, he said.
"Some will want the ability to use dicamba, but then there's almost like playing defense," he said.
As the last growing season showed, foregoing dicamba when nearby fields use it means risking yields.
Wilcox said his company will receive training in dealing with Engenia this week. Asmus of BASF said proper training -- in-person and online -- is an important part of bringing a new formula to market.
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