ROCKVILLE, Md. — State regulators sent a letter to EPA on Wednesday, Aug. 29, with their recommendations on how the federal agency should re-register three dicamba herbicides — XtendiMax (Bayer), Engenia (BASF) and FeXapan (Corteva) — for the 2019 season.
Among those suggestions, the American Association of Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) asked the agency to set an “early-season” cutoff date — but only if states are permitted to use Special Local Needs (24-C) labels to adjust those dates.
The recommendations will carry special weight with the EPA, given that AAPCO represents the state officials tasked with enforcing herbicide labels — and dicamba complaints have overwhelmed them the past two years.
“I believe because of our relationship as co-regulators of FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act), it’s important that the agency listen and hear what AAPCO is saying, because we are the people who are implementing their programs on the ground and bearing the effects of these [dicamba] registrations,” said Tony Cofer, president of AAPCO and a pesticide director with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.
“We understand why this tool is needed in some states to control herbicide-resistant weeds, but this is not a sustainable model right now with our funding and the number of complaints many of our states are taking in,” he told DTN.
Many states have reported high numbers of complaints from off-target dicamba movement to a “wide array of agricultural, horticultural and homeowner sites,” Cofer said in his letter. Those states tend to be in the mid-South or Eastern Corn Belt, such as Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, he added.
Indiana, for example, has seen a 300% increase in herbicide injury complaints since the dicamba herbicides were registered there, which prompted state chemist and seed commissioner Robert Waltz to write a companion letter to EPA, supporting AAPCO’s recommendations.
A YEAR-TO-YEAR LABEL
First among AAPCO’s requests was that EPA make future dicamba registrations “conditional on a year-to-year basis.”
“We want them to have the flexibility to be able to account for any additional information gathered instead of being locked into a two- or five-year timeframe,” Cofer explained.
And what might that information be?
“This is a strange situation because the science doesn’t seem to be clear on exactly what’s going on,” Cofer said.
For example, Waltz pointed out in his letter that Indiana regulators could not identify the source or cause of off-target dicamba movement in 75% of cases investigated in Indiana in 2017, despite “extensive investigation and environmental residue testing.”
“EARLY-SEASON” CUTOFF DATE
In order for AAPCO to support a mandatory cutoff date, EPA must allow states to adjust that date to work with the state’s geography, climate and agricultural acreage, Cofer stressed in his letter.
Section 24-C of FIFRA permits states to register “additional uses” of federal pesticides. Ideally, the agency would set a fairly restrictive, early-season cutoff date, and states could then legally push that date later into the season if necessary, Cofer said.
“A cutoff date that will work for Illinois, for example, will not necessarily work for Alabama,” he said. “What AAPCO is trying to do is give states enough flexibility to accommodate their special needs.”
STATES CAN’T ENFORCE THE CURRENT LABELS
The current dicamba labels are not fully enforceable as they are, the AAPCO letter stated. Restrictions on spraying during temperature inversions or after a certain growth stage are helpful advice — but impossible to police on the ground, both Cofer and Waltz noted.
“These recommendations are based upon real-life investigations by states,” Cofer said. “Was there an inversion? Unless you are there at time of application, you don’t know that. And we have found it very difficult in our own investigation in Alabama to enforce growth stage restrictions. By the time we actually are called to the scene of a complaint, the plant has changed.”
Waltz went further, noting that not only are sections of the label largely unenforceable, but they are also nearly impossible to follow for applicators.
“This weather data for Indiana suggests that legal by-the-label application of these products could occur during only about 47 hours during the entire month of June 2018,” he wrote. “…Taken collectively, this data supports that there is a low expectation that legal post-emergent use of dicamba on soybeans may occur, whether a complaint is filed…or not.”
STATE REGULATORS CANNOT HANDLE THE VOLUME OF COMPLAINTS
As dicamba injury complaints have ramped up since 2016, state regulatory budgets have stayed the same — or declined, Cofer noted.
The result is understaffed offices are struggling to properly investigate hundreds of cases. “So many programs have lost staff, and that really impacts your ability to deal with these high-level incidents,” he said. “Something has to be left undone.”
For the past two years in Indiana, Waltz noted that state’s pesticide agency has had to investigate 2,660% more dicamba injury complaints than normal, all while also educating and training more than 10,000 applicators and developing dicamba-specific laboratory procedures.
“The 2017-2018 compliance response effort for dicamba drift has been all-consuming of OISC (Office of Indiana State Chemist) resources for almost two full years,” he wrote. “… The efforts required for dicamba response have precluded OISC from engaging in other necessary routine compliance monitoring and educational activities during this period.”
Cofer asked EPA for “immediate financial assistance” to overwhelmed state agencies.
EPA had told state regulators earlier that the agency expected to make a decision in August on the fate of dicamba registrations. As the month nears its end, AAPCO is hopeful the decision will come soon enough for growers to make seed decisions for 2019, Cofer told DTN.
When reached for comment, BASF did not respond to AAPCO’s specific points about dicamba, but did say that the company believes training and “early-season POST applications” should continue in 2019.
“Stewardship is critically important, and we appreciate the efforts state agencies have put forth in this area,” the company added in its emailed statement.
Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, also declined to address AAPCO’s recommendations but stated that the company believes that the mandatory training and 2018 label adjustments were sufficient to reduce dicamba injury. Specifically, Bayer said the company has only received 13 complaints per million acres of Xtend crops, compared to 99 inquiries per million acres in 2017.