combine in the field at harvest
CLEAN: See any waterhemp in this Xtend soybean field?

What we’ve learned about the dicamba puzzle

How do you manage a technology when 1/20,000th of a rate will cup a susceptible soybean? And when the right rate — in the rate place — is phenomenally successful?

Let’s sum up dicamba in 2018.

We want the technology but not the headaches.

Can I get an amen? And while we’re on the subject, here’s what else we’d like.

We want the clean fields Grant Strom and a whole lot of other farmers are seeing. We hate waterhemp, Palmer amaranth, marestail and anything else that’s built up resistance.

We don’t want our herbicides drifting onto our neighbors. We don’t want to see another curled soybean leaf, tomato plant or peach tree.

And we for sure don’t want somebody else’s herbicide drifting onto our soybeans, tomato plants or peach trees.

This month, I set out to do a story on farmer success stories: Who’s using dicamba and using it successfully? And how are they doing it? Because for all the complaints, there are places where success has been achieved.

But even at the end of every success story, there was a common theme: Dicamba is tough. More people want to use it than don’t want to use it. Strom’s quote bears repeating: “You can’t let a majority stomp on the rights of the minority.”

Tamed?
In this second year, following a winter’s worth of education, farmers and retailers had more success keeping dicamba in its place. But they’ve also got bigger — and more real — questions about what’s happening when it’s not staying in place.

Like what happened at Flamm Orchards, and like the local observations nearly every farmer has made, it’s not just drift. It can’t be. When there are whole fields that are burnt corner to corner, something else is going on.

In some cases, that’s an inversion. In others, maybe it’s a contamination problem. And yet retailers have spent major dollars and invested major time in preventing problems.

Eric Gordon, plant manager at Brandt in Lincoln, Ill., says they made “extensive additions” this year. They added injection systems. They equipped operators with wind meters with Bluetooth technology. They mapped and identified every field around every field they sprayed. They stopped sprayers midfield when winds changed. They even advised 10% to 15% of their Xtend bean customers to spray something else, when those fields were surrounded by susceptible crops.

“We were proactive and said that’s not a smart place to spray,” Gordon says, acknowledging, “but it wasn’t as successful in controlling weeds as Xtend and dicamba would’ve been.”

Still, there were problems. In a year with ample 4- to 8-mph winds (“and you never get that,” Gordon says), they were in part of a five-county area in central Illinois where symptomology was more prevalent than nearly anywhere else in the state. Gordon says he’s been told inversions were worse there. But he believes those inversions may have happened at wind speeds that were within the label.

That means he, like a lot of other people using dicamba, may have been spraying within the EPA guidelines and still not been able to use it predictably.

Dicamba, it would seem, still hasn’t been tamed.

No answer
We’ve reported regularly on the number of dicamba claims in the state, but they don’t tell the whole story, first, because a whole lot more acres were sprayed in Illinois and, second, because people were out there looking for damage.

Farmers are looking for solutions. Some are planting Xtend and layering residuals, avoiding dicamba altogether. Others are thrilled with their dicamba-driven weed control and watching EPA for a decision, scheduled to come in November. Ideally, we could just fast-forward a couple of years down the road to a nice Liberty-Xtend-Roundup stacked hybrid. But that wouldn’t solve the garden and tree problem.

Nobody has a real good solution, for any of it. Not yet, anyway. But Gordon’s right here — for dicamba users, Liberty users and people who don’t need either one: “We have to find a way to coexist.”

And coexist when 1/20,000th of a rate of dicamba will cup a bean.

Gotta have the technology. Gotta be good neighbors. That’s the conundrum in 2018. We’re just waiting on the final answer.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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