Monsanto officials add their perspective on dicamba issues this season Bill Johnson, Purdue University Extension weed control specialist
DRIFT ISSUES: These soybeans are exhibiting symptoms that one would expect from dicamba drift. Note cupping of the leaves.

Monsanto officials add their perspective on dicamba issues this season

Spokespersons emphasize that the system has been used successfully on millions of acres to provide good weed control.

Monsanto held a press conference for selected media via the Web to explain their position on drift and crop injury issues related to dicamba which have surfaced in some parts of the country. Those participating took only a handful of questions from a few reporters at the conclusion of the call.

The epicenter of dicamba complaints is Arkansas, with Missouri and Tennessee also receiving numerous complaints. The map attached with this story gives a feel for where dicamba complaints have been most numerous so far. However, please note that some numbers are lower than those verified by Farm Progress with authorities in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois through personal communications on July 12. Numbers reported by officials in those states were 46, 4 and 28, respectively.

Here are key points which surfaced during the call from Monsanto’s perspective.

Widespread launch of new technology.  “We want to say upfront that we are concerned about reports of leaf cupping as much as farmers are,” Noted Lisa Safarian, vice president for North America. “We want to do what we can to help.

“At the same time some farmers are telling us they saw great weed control in their fields, and definitely want this technology for the future. Xtend technology was used on 25 million acres. That is a very large launch for a new technology. (Editor’s note: According to Monsanto sources, 20 million acres of Xtend soybeans were planted, and 5 million acres of Xtend cotton. Numbers are not available for actual number of acres sprayed with new dicamba herbicides because spraying is still underway.)

Reaction by specific states. Monsanto applauds the action of officials and regulators in Missouri and Tennessee for issuing ‘stop-sale’ orders for all older dicamba formulations, Safarian says. Those products are off-label for Xtend soybeans and should not be used, she added. Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer, noted that there is a 100-fold reduction in volatility for the new products compared to older dicamba formulations.

At the same time Monsanto officials expressed dismay at Arkansas’s actions. By banning further sale of dicamba, they are taking an important tool out of their farmers’ hands very late in the game, Safarian said.

Only one product, Engenia from BASF, was labeled for use in Arkansas on dicamba-tolerant soybeans for 2017. “Since our product wasn’t labeled, we weren’t able to do our education program with farmers in that state,” Fraley says. He believes education is important to ensure proper application of the products.


ON THE MAP: This is the map Monsanto provided for its media event. Farm Progress has learned that there have been additional dicamba complaints in Indiana (46), Ohio (4) and Illinois (26).

Extensive testing. John Chambers, North America technology development and technology lead, reassured the media the product was fully tested before it was launched. “We tested this technology extensively for a decade, and worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency, supplying all of the test data which they required,” Chambers  says.

This web page offers insight into the testing Monsanto used in developing Xtendimax with VaporGrip. Check out their insights.

Personal observations. Fraley visited several states to see fields where dicamba was applied, and also visited fields where issues were reported. “I talked to 300 farmers in Illinois recently at a meeting, and 200 said they used the Xtend system.,” he notes. “When I asked how many had problems, all the hands went down.”

Yet Fraley acknowledged that he has been in fields where drift occurred onto sensitive soybeans, and leaves were cupped. “Often you can trace it back to wind patterns and wind speeds, and it’s easy to explain,” he says.

“The other thing to note is that there are many factors which can produce cupping of soybean leaves, including weather factors and other herbicides. In some fields cupping is consistent across the field, corner to corner. In those cases you know something else was going on besides drift. It could be a contamination issue.”

In fact Fraley notes that some cupping symptoms have been reported where glufosinate was applied. There is some indication that there may have been contamination of glufosinate with dicamba, he says.

Any similarity to Roundup introduction in 1996? Fraley says those old enough to recall that period will remember that there were some issues during the first year of launch for Roundup as well. There were some issues with tank mixing and with drift during the first year. “It’s going to happen with any technology which is launched on this many acres,” he says. “We have things to look at related to what we’ve learned this season. We will look at those and make recommendations for next year.”

Possible yield effect. Based on what he has seen, Fraley says he doesn’t expect yield loss even in soybean fields where cupping of leaves occurred. The cupping typically occurred after an application relatively early in the season, and soybeans had plenty of time to recover. “I expect normal yields in those fields,” he says.

Look to the future.  Most of the problems Fraley did find while visiting fields came down to not following buffer restrictions or perhaps spraying when the wind speed was too high. He notes that Monsanto will definitely take into account everything learned this season, and will work with farmers through education programs to be ready for 2018.

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