With much of the 2019 soybean crop still in the field, the state of Illinois pushed the 2020 soybean season into the limelight last week.
Late on Friday afternoon, October 11, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) announced that it has submitted additional label restrictions for dicamba herbicides used with the Xtend cropping system in 2020. Under this Section 24(c) Special Local Need (SLN) label, Illinois growers will only have until June 20 to spray dicamba herbicides in Xtend crops, and cannot spray them when temperatures exceed 85 degrees.
The state’s move here forces the EPA to solidify its position on Section 24(c) labels that further restrict federal labels, which the agency announced it was re-evaluating earlier this year. It also forces the registrants of dicamba herbicides, Bayer and BASF, to decide how they will deal with state regulators who continue to insist that their chemicals cannot be applied safely using only the federal labels.
ILLINOIS AND DICAMBA
For three years, Illinois regulators have faced a dramatic increase in pesticide injury complaints from dicamba moving off-target. As of October 11, the state’s pesticide investigators were juggling an unprecedented 724 cases of alleged dicamba injury.
Last year, IDOA created a dicamba cutoff date of June 30, but then extended it to July 15 for late, June-planted soybean fields. Although some of the dicamba applications leading to injury reports did occur because of that July 15 cutoff date, the state also saw some of its hottest temperatures in late June, before the original cutoff date, IDOA director John Sullivan noted. Based on that experience, the department landed on June 20 as the cutoff date for 2020.
Unlike 2019, the state’s newly proposed June 20 cutoff date will not be open to adjustments in 2020, Sullivan told DTN. “We’re trying to get dicamba applications done before the weather gets hot and hits that temperature trigger of 85 degrees,” he said.
Illinois isn’t the only state wrestling with dicamba management this year. Indiana is also facing a record number of complaints, 178, this year. Other states, such as Arkansas, are seeing dicamba injury levels similar to last year’s, despite increased Xtend crop acreage and revised federal labels.
SECTION 24(c) AND THE STATES
To date, Section 24(c) labels have been the preferred method of trying to limit off-target dicamba movement for many of these state’s pesticide regulators. Only one state, Arkansas, has consistently made changes to state dicamba use without using Section 24(c).
Instead, the Arkansas State Plant Board has enacted new state rules each year governing dicamba use. Other states such as Minnesota and North Dakota have produced annual Section 24(c) labels for dicamba with additional restrictions, such as cutoff dates.
So what’s the problem?
At issue is the actual language of Section 24(c), which only permits states to grant additional uses of a federal pesticide — not restrict it further. However, for many years, EPA has permitted the use of more restrictive Section 24(c) labels and has stated so explicitly in its official guidance online.
“Yes, under certain circumstances states may impose more restrictive measures than are on [federal] labels, or limit use to a subset of uses on [federal] labels,” the agency states in its Guidance on FIFRA 24(c) Registrations, found here.
However, the growing number of restrictive 24(c) labels for dicamba sparked some concerns in the past year at EPA, which culminated in the agency making this announcement in March 2019:
“Because section 24(a) allows states to regulate the use of any federally registered pesticide, and some states have instead used 24(c) to implement cut-off dates (and/or impose other restrictions), EPA is now re-evaluating its approach to reviewing 24(c) registrations and the circumstances under which it will exercise its authority to disapprove those registrations.”
The announcement alarmed state regulators, who fear that without the fast-moving process of 24(c) labels, they will not have the flexibility to adjust pesticide labels as needed on an annual basis.
EPA has promised to issue a public comment period for any proposed changes and stated that all 2019 24(c) labels would be unaffected. Now, with 2020 Section 24(c) labels coming into the picture, the agency still has not made any official moves on the issue. When queried by DTN about EPA’s stance on restrictive state labels for dicamba in 2020, an agency representative replied via email:
“Regarding the reevaluation of the 24(c) process, EPA intends to take public comment on potential approaches before adopting any changes. As such, EPA is not making any immediate changes in this area.”
Sullivan said EPA should keep in mind the reason for this proliferation of restrictive 24(c) labels for dicamba as they reevaluate the system.
“If you look at big picture, there are many state agencies that believe that U.S. EPA ought to be taking a more solid stand on this product — recognize that it is an issue and take a more active role in managing this product,” he said. “And they haven’t done that, and that’s what driven so many states, Illinois included, to look at additional 24(c) label restrictions.”
BASF AND BAYER
For their part, dicamba registrants BASF and Bayer appear ready to accept such restrictions in 2020 from Illinois. BASF spokesperson Odessa Hines told DTN via email that “BASF will continue to support states with Special Local Need labeling where they believe additional restrictions are warranted,” although the company “believes the Engenia herbicide container label addresses the necessary application practices for minimizing off-target applications.”
Bayer spokesperson Kyel Richard said while the company doesn’t believe the Illinois restrictions are necessary, it will not be challenging them at this time, because “continued access to the Xtend technology for farmers is the most important thing at this point.”
“As Illinois growers work to implement effective weed management strategies in a shortened timeframe, we’ll collaborate with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, grower groups and others to ensure Illinois growers and certified applicators are equipped with the necessary resources and recommendations to make it a successful season,” Richard said.
See more on the Illinois announcement of new dicamba restrictions in 2020 here.
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