combine in soybean field
WATERHEMP: Grant Strom says dicamba technology is working on their Dahinda, Ill., farm. “Two years ago, I would have called this field 25% infested with waterhemp. And this year, you can see how much there is.”

Dicamba: How they made it work

Amid more than 300 official dicamba-related complaints, many Illinois farmers and retailers are finding success with dicamba technology. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Grant Strom wasn’t exactly new to dicamba technology last year, or to Xtend soybeans.

He’s been growing Xtend genetics on his farm near Dahinda in Knox County, Ill., since 2015, in company trials. In 2015 and 2016, he grew the genetics in increasing quantities but couldn’t spray dicamba. By 2017, he had 85% of his 2,200 soybean acres in Xtend, with the balance in Roundup Ready beans, but still didn’t spray all the Xtend beans with dicamba.

He went full bore in 2018: 100% Xtend beans and 100% sprayed with dicamba (minus 250 acres of Enlist seed beans, in a company trial).

“It’s been a very effective product for us, I feel. We’ve had very little issue,” Strom says.

Why? And how has he been able to rack up success on 2,200 acres when dicamba damage complaints at the Illinois Department of Agriculture hit an all-time high in 2018?

Location is a big part of the equation. Strom says much of Knox County has readily adopted dicamba technology. Local salespeople report heavy (if not 100%) Xtend soybean sales.

“There’s just not a lot of Liberty beans out here,” he says. “We had one neighbor who had Liberty beans this year, and we left a buffer, and he had no problems.”

Strom’s theory is that while waterhemp has been a problem in his area for four to five years, Palmer amaranth hasn’t yet been an issue. Contrast that with central and southern Illinois, where farmers have been fighting both waterhemp and Palmer for several years already.

“They had to make a switch to something that was more effective than Roundup, and quicker than we had to,” Strom explains. “By the time waterhemp got to be a huge problem up here, everybody knew dicamba was coming, and we just held out hope that it would get here and we could use it.”

Making it work
Indeed, farther south, retailers find themselves with an even mix of dicamba and Liberty customers. Regan Wear, agronomy manager for CHS at Shipman, Ill., says their territory (from St. Louis to Springfield and west to the Mississippi River) is the battleground for dicamba and Liberty — and last year, they were hit as hard as anywhere with damaged crops.

His solution: Talk more. They map every field, call customers, call neighbors and call neighboring retail competitors. That level of communication is new in the chemical retail world, but Wear says it’s worth it.

“We’ve never dealt with a product before where it was so important,” he says.

Strom agrees that being aware of neighbors is important. While there are few non-GMO acres, orchards or wineries effectively close to him, he watches alfalfa and private gardens closely, and two state nature areas on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ watch list.

“They’re going to be checking trees,” he says.

Farming tight helps, too. Strom, who farms with his father, says 80% of their land sits close together. “We’re our own neighbor,” he says. They can strategically plan their chemistries. In 2017, bean fields that were out in the open didn’t get sprayed with dicamba. They also farm along natural barriers like the Spoon River and along railroads.

They run their own sprayer and switched fields on certain days due to wind direction, instead of running down the line for the fields they wanted to spray. For the state forest they border on the north, they waited until they got a south wind at that farm.

Strom didn’t use apps. He communicated with his neighbors and used common sense. “If you go out and the air’s hanging and the dust is hanging, it’s not terribly difficult to know there’s an inversion going on,” he says.

And, he benefited from more favorable spraying days in 2018, relative to 2017. He always tries to get spraying done early, but last year, heat starting around June 10 made it tough.

Last winter’s EPA-required educational sessions about dicamba application taught Strom more about nozzles and coverage, and running a little more water at a higher pressure.

“It helped us not only learn about keeping the product on your own fields, but also getting a more effective kill using the product,” he says. They used Engenia the past couple of years because it’s a lower use rate, which worked better with their tender truck setup.

UPSHOT: “Most of the farmers I’ve talked to are for keeping the product [dicamba],” says Knox County, Ill., farmer Grant Strom. “But if there needs to be some modifications to the label, then we’re willing to look at those and adjust to them. We’re better off having the product with adjustments and limitations than we are not having it at all.”

Wear is pushing three pieces of advice with his customers: early spraying, layered residuals and talking with neighbors. And like a lot of retailers, CHS has put in dicamba-only injection systems.

Controlling weeds
And waterhemp? “There’s nothing,” Strom says of his fields. Prior to dicamba technology, he estimates he had 25% waterhemp infestation in some fields. He says throughout the Knox County area, beans are the cleanest they’ve been in several years — but that’s not just due to dicamba.

“People have gotten smarter about layering residuals,” he says.

“We’ve always been a two-pass chemical program on our farm. We’ve never tried to kill with one pass, and we still had issues with waterhemp. We just couldn’t control it,” Strom says, adding that tillage isn’t an option for them with 95% no-till soybeans. “It's been a major, major issue.”

Wear doesn’t look for any waterhemp magic wands in the pipeline either. “We need to figure this out and get along, and that’s neighbors with trees and flowers, too. We have to make sure we’re doing the right things to protect those plants, too.”

With the EPA set to issue its decision on the future of dicamba in November, Strom is watching closely. He suspects the agency will add restrictions but won’t pull it from the market. He’s watching his Enlist beans to see how they perform and hopes Enlist gets full approval — which means he likes what he sees so far.

In the end, despite what the EPA does or how resistant weeds migrate, everybody has to get along.

“It’s a tough one, because there’s obviously more people that want to use it than don’t want to use it,” Strom says. “But you can’t let a majority just stomp on the rights of the minority, either.”

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