Upper Midwest farmers report damage from controversial herbicide

Published 10:12 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. — Hundreds of farmers in the Upper Midwest are reporting damage from the controversial herbicide dicamba, and state officials are considering restrictions for the 2018 growing season that might surpass even new federal rules.

The state agriculture departments in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota this fall all asked farmers to respond to informal surveys so they could gauge the amount of damage in their states. More than 200 farmers in each state indicated damage.

“The whole dicamba situation, it’s something I think about night and day,” said Tom Gere, assistant director of ag services for South Dakota’s Agriculture Department. “We need the technology, with all of the resistant weeds we have out there, but we don’t need the problems that we’ve had this year.”

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Dicamba has been around for decades for use on crops such as soybeans and corn, but complaints surfaced across the country this summer over drifting of newly registered formulations onto neighboring crops. Officials in some states issued temporary bans on the herbicide.

The advocacy group Pesticide Action Network has estimated that more than 3 million acres of crops in at least 20 states were damaged by dicamba drift this year — an area the size of Connecticut.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced a deal with the agribusiness giants Monsanto, BASF and DuPont for new voluntary labeling requirements for the chemical for next growing season. Dicamba products will be labeled as “restricted use,” requiring additional training and certifications for applicators and limiting when and how the herbicide can be sprayed.

States can go further, even banning the herbicide’s use. That option is a possibility in Minnesota, said Margaret Hart, spokeswoman for that state’s agriculture department.

“We’ll take a look at what our investigations brought forth, what the (farmer) survey presented, what the EPA is recommending,” she said. “We’ll take all of that information and use it in the process of making our decision about (dicamba) registration for 2018.”

In North Dakota, where farmers this year are expected to harvest a record soybean crop, the Agriculture Department also is drafting state-specific dicamba restrictions. The state will not go so far as to ban the chemical but is likely to fine-tune the federal rules to fit North Dakota weather and geography, according to Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

“We can be a little more prescriptive in North Dakota,” he said. “We have a pretty good idea, a feel, for where soybeans are grown and what the environmental conditions are.”

State officials are striving to finalize their regulations soon.

“It’s the time of year when growers are wanting to make decisions for 2018,” Hart said. “We know the urgency of it.”