soybeans damaged by dicamba
WHAT’S NEXT? What happens after off-target dicamba movement is reported? IDOA has a team of 18 investigators to determine whether or not Illinois pesticide laws and label requirements were followed, says Jean Payne, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association.

In-season dicamba: Off-target movement, violations and litigation

Downwind buffers, droplet sizes and nozzles are all factors to consider for in-season dicamba applications. Failure to meet the requirements could lead to off-target movement, damage, violations and litigation.

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories about in-season dicamba use in Illinois. Part 1 discussed the new low-volatility formulations, particle drift vs. vapor drift, label requirements and where dicamba may work.

There’s a difference between label recommendations and requirements on new dicamba products.

“I’ve been in meetings regarding these new products and heard, ‘We recommend this, we recommend that,’” says Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association. “If you read the label, it doesn’t say ‘recommend.’ The only recommendation is 4-inch weed height; everything else is a requirement. Buffers, scouting, identification of sensitive areas and specialty crops, nozzles, boom height, wind speed restrictions — those are all requirements.”

And those requirements were changing nearly daily in early spring, when Bob Wolf, owner of Wolf Consulting & Research, was holding training meetings across the country.  “I’ve been doing this for 30-some years, and the last 10 days have been so frustrating to try and stay ahead of it [label changes],” he says.

Wolf stresses the importance of droplet size, pressure gauges and nozzles. “The days of plugging in sprayer settings and hitting the fields are over,” he notes. “The pressure gauge is the new speedometer.”

The spray droplet spectrum changes with higher pressure, which Wolf says may create more drift. He recommends a maximum pressure of 63 pounds per square inch for XtendiMax and Fexapan and 65 psi for Engenia.

Nozzles are the other key factor behind droplet size, Wolf notes, as the EPA approves large-droplet nozzles with the least potential for off-target applications. “That’s not always a best thing,” he says. “Large droplets don’t always mean good coverage.”

He recommends using label-approved nozzles and keeping the pressure above 45 psi for these products. Wolf advises against using nozzles with 80-degree spray patterns, even though they’re approved on the label. The label requires a 24-inch boom height, and 80-degree fan angle nozzles require a 30-inch boom height at 20-inch row spacing, he explains.    


DETAILS: Bob Wolf, owner of Wolf Consulting & Research, stresses the importance of droplet size, pressure gauges and nozzles. “The days of plugging in sprayer settings and hitting the fields are over,” he notes. “The pressure gauge is the new speedometer.” (Photo: BASF)

EPA labels also require farmers to create buffer zones, to help reduce off-target movement injury. According to Payne, all three herbicide labels require a downwind buffer toward sensitive areas. (See “Learn the labels” in Part 1.)

That’s not a suggestion; it’s the law. Why?

“The U.S. EPA recognizes this is an extremely difficult label,” says Payne. “But they have lawsuits against them, and several groups didn’t want the products to be approved at all. So, U.S. EPA had to find the common ground. That’s why the labels are so rigorous.”

She recommends applicators start by using FieldWatch.com to identify specialty crops in their areas. The website is voluntary and doesn’t track all sensitive crops, including seed beans, LibertyLink soybeans or non-GMO soybeans — an important crop to be aware of, given that Illinois produces more non-GMO soybeans than any other state.

The upshot? “In almost every case, you’ll need a downwind buffer,” Payne says. “And if sensitive commercial specialty crops are adjacent and downwind of the field, the labels state: ‘Do not apply.’”

The only way to know what’s surrounding Xtend soybean fields is to ask. “That will have to be good old-fashioned, neighbor-to-neighbor communication,” Payne advises.

Start talking to neighbors now — not when it’s time to spray and the wind is blowing, she adds. “These decisions will have to be made the day of application, depending on the conditions.”

Those conversations and decisions could save applicators from costly violations and litigation.


DOING IT RIGHT: “We’re all appreciative of the new technologies, but they have to be used properly. This is our moment in time to do it right,” says Jean Payne. “We have a strong history in Illinois of being very proactive and having respect for urban neighbors and our non-farming community. This one will test our ability to do it right.”

Dealing with collateral damage
Say your neighbor claims your off-target dicamba application has created damage. What then?

Payne explains that the Illinois Department of Agriculture has a team of 18 investigators who are in charge of investigating whether or not the Illinois pesticide laws — and the label requirements — were followed. If investigators determine an applicator violated label requirements, a violation is filed, and the applicator receives a penalty based upon the severity. Multiple violations may accumulate against the applicator’s license, and he or she may lose their state license. 

A violation opens the door for civil litigation. “If the state has proven that you were in violation of the label, anyone who feels they’ve been damaged can take that to the court,” Payne says. Cases may be settled out of court, but with damage to high-value crops like vineyards, pumpkins or organic farms, the price tag could be substantial. 

What about insurance? In many cases the deductible is very high, Payne says. “Major claims may get turned in and paid, but many will be at the expense of the applicator.

 “My advice is that it’s best to not let it happen at all,” she adds. “If you’re on the receiving end of a misuse investigation, it’s just a nightmare.”

 

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