Dicamba, the broad-spectrum herbicide first registered for farm use in 1967,  will be back for the 2021 growing season under new label restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This past spring, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit did an immediate withdrawal of the registrations of three dicamba herbicide brands.   Soybean and cotton farmers who hadn’t already bought enough herbicide to control weeds through this past summer were left hanging. 

This week, EPA Administrator  Andrew Wheeler responded to the Court’s ban on dicamba use from summer.   The new EPA plan allows a five-year registration for dicamba for use on soybean and cotton fields to control weeds.

Additional restrictions including application cut-off dates, downwind buffers, and others are included in the EPA plan that intended to run through the 2025 growing season.   Wheeler said the plan gives  “certainty to growers as they make purchasing decisions.” 

“State department of agriculture leaders respect the decision made by EPA, as NASDA members depend on EPA’s high-quality science-based risk assessment to steward healthy farms and healthy communities,” said Barb Glenn, who heads the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).

Earlier this month, NASDA and the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials sent a letter to EPA’s Wheeler expressing nationwide state pesticide regulators’ unanimous support for EPA’s rigorous, science-based approach to evaluating pesticide products. In the letter, NASDA urged EPA to consider the approaching growing season in its timeline for reviewing the formulations.  NASDA members advise farmers to only apply pesticides according to their label instructions.

“The timely decision provides farmers with information to make purchasing choices for next spring, a valuable measure of certainty during this unprecedented year,” she added.  “To effectively prepare for the 2021 growing season, NASDA members will engage with farmers to acutely understand the decision’s impacts and work closely with EPA to co-regulate pesticide use.”

The American Soybean Association (ASA) also  issued a statement saying: “Dicamba is an important choice for growers to have available to help manage damaging weeds.”  ASA said  it  “is reviewing the new registration to have a comprehensive understanding of its impact on U.S. soybean production.”

ASA President Bill Gordon, a soybean farmer from Worthington, MN, said dicamba “ is one of many tools integral to the success of soy growers who face different crop production challenges throughout a diverse growing region spanning 30-plus states.

 “We rely in great part on EPA support for the continued success of our industry, from measures encouraging biodiesel market expansion to these types of decisions regarding safe and effective use of crop protection tools, “ Gordon continued. “We thank EPA today for the many steps and time invested in coming to this decision to reregister a product relied upon by many soy growers.”

The economic damage that would result if dicamba herbicides were not available “would be tremendous,” according to the National Cotton Council’s Kent Fountain, a Georgia cotton producer.  He says it is a “critical crop protection product for cotton producers.”

Cotton growers predicted a 50 percent yield loss in fields with resistant pigweed without dicamba.

The issues of “drift damage” to close-by organic fields and whether dicamba is “safe enough” aren’t going away.

“Rather than evaluating the significant costs of dicamba drift as the 9th Circuit told them the law required, EPA rushed re-approval as a political prop just before the election, sentencing farmers and the environment to another five years of unacceptable damage,” said George Kimbrell, Legal Director at the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

“Center for Food Safety will most certainly challenge these unlawful approvals,” Kimbrell promised.

Dicamba, according to recent estimates,  was used on 41 percent of soybean acreage and 71 percent of cotton acreage.    The estimates are based on the purchase of dicamba-tolerant seeds.   Growers use dicamba brands to reduce weed control costs.