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By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Timothy D. Backstrom

On October 31, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is extending the registration of dicamba for two years for “over-the-top” use (application to growing plants) to control weeds in fields for cotton and soybean plants genetically engineered to resist dicamba.  EPA states that the registration for these dicamba products will expire on December 20, 2020, unless EPA decides to further extend it.  EPA states that the label changes described below were made to ensure that these products can continue to be used effectively while addressing potential concerns to surrounding crops and plants.  EPA’s dicamba registration decisions for the 2019-2020 growing season are:

  • Two-year registration (until December 20, 2020);
  • Only certified applicators may apply dicamba over-the-top (those working under the supervision of a certified applicator may no longer make applications);
  • Prohibit over-the-top application of dicamba on soybeans 45 days after planting and cotton 60 days after planting;
  • For cotton, limit the number of over-the-top applications from four to two (soybeans remain at two over-the-top applications);
  • Applications will be allowed only from one hour after sunrise to two hours before sunset;
  • The downwind buffer for all applications will remain at 110 feet, but in those counties where endangered species may exist, there will also be a new 57-foot buffer around the other sides of the field;
  • Clarify training period for 2019 and beyond, ensuring consistency across all three products;
  • Enhanced tank clean out instructions for the entire system;
  • Enhanced label to improve applicator awareness on the impact of low pH’s on the potential volatility of dicamba; and
  • Label clean up and consistency to improve compliance and enforceability.

EPA states that it has reviewed substantial amounts of new information and has determined that the continued registration of these dicamba products with the specified use restrictions meets the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act’s (FIFRA) registration standards.  EPA also determined that extending these registrations with the new safety measures will not affect endangered species.  More information on this extension is available on EPA’s website; more information on other dicamba issues is available on our blog.

Commentary

As expected, this decision allows the continued use of the newer dicamba formulations intended to be applied on dicamba-resistant crop varieties.  Of particular note is that EPA has not granted a permanent Section 3 registration, instead granting a time-limited, two-year registration which EPA states will expire at the end of 2020.  This will allow EPA more time to assess in more detail whether the new use restrictions will further reduce problems of misuse, label complexity, or unexpected drift which have been reported in past growing seasons. 

The most vexing issue behind plant injury reports over the past few years is whether these reports are mostly due to misuse (e.g., applicators who do not use the new formulations designed to reduce volatility, which is a label violation since the “old dicamba” product is considered more prone to cause drift injury), or, are due to characteristics of the new formulations which are not yet fully understood and which lead to unexpected volatility and other drift problems.  Some have also argued that problems are also due to the difficulty (or reluctance) in following the more prescriptive requirements for the new formulations.  The two-year renewal will continue to see EPA closely monitor injury and misuse reports, as well as continued academic and registrant research into the likely cause of any reported problems.

EPA’s decision also imposes further requirements for additional training, timing, record-keeping, and stewardship when using the new dicamba formulations that are designed to reduce or to eliminate those plant injury reports that are not clearly attributable to misuse of the older dicamba products.  EPA will rely on state officials to report and evaluate the experience of users in their respective states, especially concerning whether the additional training and stewardship requirements significantly reduce local injury reports. 


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala

On January 3, 2018, officials with the Arkansas State Plant Board (Plant Board) voted 11 to 3 to uphold its statewide ban of dicamba.  The vote came after a subcommittee of the state's legislative council asked the board to reevaluate its earlier decision. The subcommittee will revisit the Plant Board's decision again on January 16, 2018.  That the subcommittee plans to revisit its decision in just two weeks is noteworthy and illustrates the controversy surrounding this and other similar state bans. 

Commentary

Given the panel will meet again in the next few weeks, this may indicate that the legislature is urging some greater flexibility -- that is, a longer application window that would allow some growers to use the herbicide, along with consideration of any data about the newer formulations designed to reduce the likelihood of drift.

Whether any “flexibility” or additional data will be sufficient to convince the Plant Board that the product can be used without expecting drift incidents in the future is not clear, especially since the issue has become a point of intense political debate.

More information on dicamba issues is available on our blog under key word dicamba.


 

By  James V. AidalaLisa M. Campbelland Timothy D. Backstrom

On December 14, 2017, the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced that it issued and collected the first round of fines resulting from investigations regarding the pesticide dicamba.  The news release states that the first wave of civil penalties issued to applicators, all from Dunklin County, were issued as “a result of investigations of complaints during the 2016 growing season,” and the “civil penalties, ranging from $1,500 to $62,250, were issued for pesticide misuse (off label use and drift).”  Further, in 2016, “Department staff conducted and completed 121 complainant investigations.  Those complainants named approximately 60 applicators, who were investigated as a result of complaints. In addition, the Department investigated nearly 100 non-Dicamba related incidents.” 

Commentary

This is the first group of what is anticipated to be a large number of dicamba-related enforcement cases, given the extensive number of, and publicity concerning, the reported incidents involving dicamba.  Reported incidents in Arkansas were even more numerous than those in Missouri.  About one-third of the reported incidents in Missouri have now been attributed to only six applicators.  One applicator alone was cited for 149 discrete violations, which indicates that problems with the new dicamba formulations may be less widespread than some originally feared based on the large number of reported incidents.  Moreover, some of the states where the new dicamba products were widely used have reported very few incidents.  In the aggregate, this data suggests that better stewardship training accompanied by rigorous enforcement may be sufficient to greatly reduce the future incidence of unexpected off-site movement of the new dicamba formulations.

More information on dicamba issues is available in our blog.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala

On October 13, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it had reached an agreement with Monsanto, BASF, and DuPont on measures “to further minimize the potential for drift to damage neighboring crops from the use of dicamba formulations used to control weeds in genetically modified cotton and soybeans,” and “new requirements for the use of dicamba ‘over the top’ (application to growing plants) will allow farmers to make informed choices for seed purchases for the 2018 growing season.”

EPA states that in a series of discussions, it “worked cooperatively with states, land-grant universities, and the pesticide manufacturers to examine the underlying causes of recent crop damage in the farm belt and southeast,” “sought extensive input from States and [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)] cooperative extension agents from across the country, as well as the pesticide manufacturers, on the underlying causes of damage,” and “reviewed all available information carefully and developed tangible regulatory changes for the 2018 growing season.”

The label changes that certain registrants of dicamba products have agreed to impose additional requirements for "over the top" use of these products next year.  These new requirements include:

  • Classifying products as "restricted use," permitting only certified applicators with special training, and those under their supervision, to apply them; dicamba-specific training for all certified applicators to reinforce proper use;
  • Requiring farmers to maintain specific records regarding the use of these products to improve compliance with label restrictions;
  • Limiting applications to when maximum wind speeds are below 10 mph (from 15 mph) to reduce potential spray drift;
  • Reducing the times during the day when applications can occur;
  • Including tank clean-out language to prevent cross contamination; and
  • Enhancing susceptible crop language and recordkeeping with sensitive crop registries to increase awareness of risk to especially sensitive crops nearby. 

This announcement follows two compliance advisories issued by EPA in August 2016 and July 2017 on what EPA described as the high number of complaints received regarding crop damage from the alleged misuse of herbicides containing the active ingredient dicamaba.  EPA’s August 2016 compliance advisory stated that the Missouri Department of Agriculture received 117 complaints alleging misuse of pesticide products containing dicamba, and Missouri growers estimated that more than 42,000 acres of crops had been adversely affected.  Further, that similar complaints alleging misuse of dicamba products were received by Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.  In the spring of 2016, EPA issued a proposal to register dicamba to control weeds in cotton and soybean that have been genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.  In November 2016, EPA issued a conditional registration for dicamba on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean to Monsanto for its Xtendimax product; and EPA recently approved a label amendment made by Monsanto for Xtendimax which includes “additional restrictions further minimizing off-field movement of the active ingredient dicamba.”

EPA’s July 2017 compliance advisory states that by early July, EPA had received reports of hundreds of complaints to state agencies in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee, a significant increase from 2016; lists the three new conditional registrations issued late last year (including Xtendimax); and states that only these new registered products may be lawfully applied over-the-top of growing soybeans and cotton.  It discusses what it describes as unlawful applications of dicamba products, and states that “[e]xcept for the new conditionally registered dicamba products, application of a dicamba product during either the cotton or soybean crop growing season is unlawful under FIFRA.”

EPA’s July 2017 compliance advisory further states that each of the conditionally approved dicamba herbicide products has labeling that provides mandatory directions for use, restrictions, and special precautions that must be followed, and that the labels of the new products require specific and rigorous drift mitigation measures to further reduce the potential for exposure from spray drift including:

  • No application from aircraft;
  • No application when wind speed is over 15 mph;
  • Application only with approved nozzles at specified pressures; and
  • Buffer zones to protect sensitive areas when the wind is blowing toward them.

Commentary

The reports of and concerns about potential damage to crops in connection with the application of dicamba illustrate a problem that has long been discussed, which is the potential for unintended impact when a pesticide that has been specifically designed for use with one or more crops that have been genetically engineered to be tolerant to the pesticide is applied in close proximity to other crops that do not share these tolerant characteristics. 

The dicamba case also illustrates the differing views on potential misuse issues.  Some observers have questioned whether all of the reported dicamba incidents were due to misuse or misapplication of the product.  Although the 2018 label changes are designed to mitigate the potential for damage to sensitive crops, some question whether some unanticipated or as yet not completely understood factor may be at play in some of the incident reports.  One issue raised by some researchers concerns potential unexpected volatility of the product even when applied according to the label directions by well-trained applicators.  The registrants have disputed this suggestion, but it is an area which will likely be more thoroughly researched over the next few growing seasons.

More information on EPA’s regulatory action on dicamba is available on EPA’s website.