Stories | July 21, 2017
Dicamba Field Investigations: What Monsanto Has Learned So Far
The launch of any new technology can bring challenges. Though we put extensive preparations, education and outreach into efforts surrounding the launch of XtendiMax Herbicide with VaporGrip Technology this season, we continue to learn. Today growers are in need of more weed control tools, and the vast number of growers and applicators we’re hearing from are successfully using this technology and seeing good weed control.
We also know that as the growing season has unfolded this summer, some leaf cupping and other symptomology have triggered concern among soybean farmers in several locations. Today, through social media, we receive instantaneous feedback as reports of concerns are being shared with the push of a button. At Monsanto, we take these farmers’ concerns very seriously; farmers are the lifeblood of our company and our first priority.
In a recent post on this subject last week, our chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, reinforced our commitment to “investigate what is really going on” and “find solutions to effectively address these problems.” Given that success in the second commitment is dependent on success in the first, we are heavily engaged in walking fields, talking with our customers, and gathering data. Today I want to offer an update on what we are seeing.
First, however, allow me to provide some important context.
Amid the reports of symptomology and the speculation about potential causes, we continue to hear from many farmers across many states that our dicamba product and overall weed management recommendations are delivering clean fields without incident. Roundup Ready 2 Xtend® Soybean and cotton with XtendFlex® Technology are being grown on 25 million acres, an area roughly equal to the entire state of Virginia, and XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology is being used on many of those acres. I don’t want to diminish the fact that some growers have had leaf cupping or other symptomology; however most have not, and would no doubt be upset if they lost the opportunity to keep using this important crop protection tool.
One good example we’re seeing is within Illinois, where 10.4 million soybean acres are planted. Our estimates show roughly a third of the acres are Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Soybeans. Given the large number of Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Soybean acres planted, it is notable the significantly fewer inquiries in that state. It appears the technology is working successfully on the overwhelming majority of the acres.
A key to this success is stringently following the application requirements for this new dicamba technology. When farmers and applicators follow these instructions, they work. Consider, for example, that in Georgia, where a large number of cotton acres are planted and sensitive crops like peanuts, vegetables and legumes are popular, there have been virtually no reported claims to date. Farmers were required to participate in programs where they received robust training in the use of our product. (Altogether, Monsanto has trained nearly 50,000 farmers and applicators across the country. BASF reportedly has trained another 15,000 applicators). I think it is telling us that the rigorous training done by the state of Georgia and the industry following the label recommendations is working.
Arkansas, alone among the 34 states where we applied for a state label, did not approve XtendiMax. As a result we were not able to help train growers in the use of approved products in that state. And by a wide margin, Arkansas leads the country in complaints—with about 700. (You can find our company’s complete statement about the State of Arkansas’ actions here.)
By way of context, it is also important to understand that the kind of symptomology we are seeing can have many possible causes. Although jumping to conclusions may provide some kind of short-run satisfaction, the only scientifically sound way to solve any problem is to consider all of the possible causes, and then run them down—as efficiently and systematically as possible.
So with all that said, what has Monsanto learned in our field investigations, which we’re conducting with the help of third parties.
We’re in the early stages, for sure. But to this point, the indications are that volatility of the approved over-the-top products is not the major source of the off-target movement. Instead, the evidence we’re seeing is pointing to:
- Illegal applications of non-approved products
- Lack of compliance with the labeled spray requirements; and
- Direct application of contaminated products that can result from either improper tank clean out or the use of contaminated products
Let’s discuss these findings one by one.
Regarding illegal use of non-approved dicamba products: Our inquiry indicates that in some areas, off-label use may approach 25 percent of the applications. Many observers noted that sales of these products spiked this year, despite the fact that these older products are primarily used on corn and wheat and that corn and wheat acres are down. If these estimates are correct, I have to say that this is very concerning. Off-label use is not only wrong, it’s illegal and adds volatility risk for not only the individual applying it, but also the neighboring farmers. In addition to these older products being more volatile on their own, I am concerned with what else may have been put in the tank that could further increase volatility potential.
Regarding lack of compliance with the labeled spray requirements: We found some application issues, including wrong nozzles, wrong boom heights, wrong pressure, no DRAs, spraying when conditions were too windy, and spraying during temperature inversions—all of which can result in drift, and are violations of the XtendiMax product label.
The importance of using approved products in compliance with label requirements cannot be overstated. For our dicamba product, we’ve worked to provide farmers and applicators with a large number of educational materials, including application requirement trainings with nearly 50,000 farmers and applicators. For example, in Missouri, we’ve trained more than 3,200 individuals, in Illinois, we’ve trained more than 3,100 individuals and in Iowa, we’ve trained more than 4,800 individuals. We’ve also made the label instructions available at our XtendiMax website—XtendiMaxApplicationRequirements.com. Similarly, BASF has provided nozzles and a lot of information on the use of their approved Engenia® product at their website—EngeniaTankMix.com. The label requirements for these new products are different than what farmer and applicators have been used to, so education is important.
Regarding the direct application of contaminated products: we observed patterns of uniform leaf cupping symptomology that were inconsistent with dicamba drift or volatility, and looked to be the result of a direct application. Some of these farmers believed these symptoms were caused by direct application of glufosinate contaminated with dicamba. As part of our investigations and efforts to help these farmers, we tested diluted and undiluted samples from sprayer rig tanks and other on-farm storage containers of growers. We found some that tested positive for dicamba. This could be because the applicator did not undertake the proper tank and equipment clean out in accordance with the label. However, we also acquired unopened product from agricultural chemical retailers in three states; surprisingly, a number of the generic glufosinate products (which have only been on the market for a short period of time) tested positive for dicamba.
We will continue to investigate. We’re in this together, and we take very seriously the responsibility we have to ensure we’re doing our part to help farmers have the tools and answers they need.
Now is the time to come together. We need to ensure we understand what is happening in these fields, what is causing it, and most importantly, figure out what we should do differently next year to ensure all growers have a successful experience with this important weed management system.
Here’s what you can expect from us:
- We will listen to farmers, academics, applicators, retail partners, and regulators to understand what they’ve experienced, what they saw and what they need.
- With that in mind, we are looking forward to convening our academic partners and hearing more about what they’re seeing and what recommendations they’d give for next season.
- We’ll collaborate with the industry to look at possible changes for next spray season including:
- Evolving Monsanto’s training efforts, including tailoring training events regionally based on feedback received this season, providing additional educational opportunities on key application requirements like triple rinse tank clean out and tank mixes, continuing in-field support and sharing additional educational resources with farmers and applicators.
- Advocating to increase training, certification, and record keeping through state agencies.
- Engaging with our Climate Corporation team to help growers identify inversion risks.
- Evaluating additional opportunities to maximize performance.
- And I am sure the list will expand as we collaborate across the industry.
You have our commitment.