The Planted Row: What’s the right thing to do?

Stan Wise

by Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

How many mailboxes have you replaced?

If you’ve been farming for any length of time, my guess is that you’ve replaced more than one.

Wouldn’t it be easy to just keep driving and never acknowledge you were the one that destroyed the mailbox with whatever implement you were pulling?

It would be easy, but that’s not how most farmers I know operate. They will come back later and either repair or replace the mailbox.

Because they are good neighbors.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

If you destroy a mailbox, it’s easy to know the right thing to do. Sometimes, however, life gives you a scenario that’s a bit more complicated.

Life has given us that scenario with dicamba-tolerant soybeans.

First, the background. In 2016, farmers were able to plant dicamba-tolerant soybeans. Dicamba is a herbicide that affects soybeans at very low levels. Some formulations of dicamba have been on the market for years, but they are extremely volatile and drift easily. Those old formulations are not labeled for soybeans, but some farmers sprayed them anyway in 2016 on their dicamba-tolerant soybeans. The resulting drift damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of dicamba-intolerant soybeans, trees, and gardens.

It’s pretty obvious those farmers didn’t do the right thing. Tempers were high. One farmer was even murdered over dicamba damage, according to an article published by Modern Farmer (http://bit.ly/2sAnzFS).

The EPA approved two new formulations of dicamba by two different companies for use in 2017 that were supposedly vastly less volatile than the old formulations. It should be noted that Monsanto did not allow university researchers to test its new dicamba formulation for volatility in advance of the EPA approval.

This year, as you are no doubt aware, states across the country have experienced even more reports of dicamba damage. I have heard the rumors, as I’m sure you have, about the reasons behind this. Some say that sales of old (cheaper) formulations of dicamba are higher, suggesting some farmers are spraying the most volatile (and off-label) forms of dicamba on soybeans and cotton. Some rumors say that farmers and applicators aren’t following the strict guidelines for the new formulations — special spray nozzles must be used, spray pressure must be lowered, weather conditions must be perfect, etc.

Some farmers, however, are claiming that they used the new formulations of dicamba, followed all of the required conditions, and still they damaged a neighbor’s crop.

This month research has been released that would seem to vindicate those farmers.

University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture researchers released results consistent with studies conducted in Missouri and Tennessee (http://bit.ly/2ipNKvb). What these researchers found is that while lab testing showed the new formulations of dicamba to be significantly less volatile than old formulations, field testing shows that volatility between old and new formulations is much less distinguishable.

The researchers in Arkansas showed that in the high temperatures of the growing season, new formulations of dicamba are vaporizing from the soil even 36 hours after application and moving in the air. This results in damage to dicamba-intolerant soybeans at distances even twice the recommended buffer space.

So what’s the right thing to do here?

It’s complicated. On one hand, you’ve got EPA-approved dicamba-tolerant soybeans and EPA-approved dicamba formulations labeled for those soybeans. On the other hand, research has shown that even if you use those two technologies exactly as the law requires, you can still damage a neighbor’s soybeans, garden, or trees.

Crop insurance probably won’t cover your neighbor’s dicamba-damaged beans, and the neighbor with the damaged garden or trees has almost no recourse. It’s unlikely that authorities would be able to prove that you were the one who damaged those neighbors’ crops.

So is it OK for you to use legal products, knowing it might result in damage to your neighbor’s property even if you do everything exactly according to the label?

What will you decide in 2018?