Soybeans show cupped leaves in 2016, a sign of damage from dicamba herbicide drift.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced July 7 it is banning the sale and use of dicamba products in Missouri effective immediately, after a second summer with numerous complaints of dicamba herbicides drifting and causing damage.

Retailers must stop sales and offers of sales of dicamba products labeled for agricultural use, and on-farm use must stop. The department called the move “temporary until a more permanent solution is reached.”

“We want to protect farmers and their livelihoods,” director of agriculture Chris Chinn said in the release. “At the same time, my commitment to technology and innovation in agriculture is unwavering. That’s why I am asking the makers of these approved post-emergent products, researchers and farmers to work with us to determine how we can allow applications to resume this growing season, under certain agreed conditions.”

Arkansas moved to ban dicamba herbicide in June.

Last year, legislators and farmers blamed much of the dicamba drift damage on sprayers using older or illegal versions of the herbicide. But this year, even with an approved corresponding herbicide label for Xtend dicamba-tolerant soybeans and increased fines for illegal herbicide use, the problem has remained.

Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed scientist, has been speaking about the issue at meetings and field days.

“In the Bootheel of Missouri, it’s a tremendous problem,” he said.

Bradley spoke about the issue at a field day July 7 at the University of Missouri Bradford Research Farm. He talked about the long days and calls he has fielded from angry farmers who had crops damaged.

“I’m dead serious when I say I don’t want to live through this again,” he said. “… People are saying, ‘You have got to give me an answer,’ and we don’t have an answer.”

Bradley said the Bootheel region has had far more issues with dicamba than other parts of the state.

“For one thing, they have cotton here, and almost all the cotton is Xtend resistant varieties,” he said.

This led to people switching to dicamba-tolerant soybeans “because a lot of people felt like they had to protect themselves.”

But Bradley said even with all the Xtend dicamba-tolerant soybeans, the area is still seeing dicamba drift damage.

“There’s not a lot of Roundup Ready or Liberty Link soybeans here, and they’re still getting damage,” he said.

The issues have persisted despite approved herbicide labels and supposedly proper use, Bradley said.

“These are with the newly approved products,” he said. “There’s been a lot of people who tried their best, and we still had issues.”

At the field day, Bradley said nighttime spraying, tank contamination and improper sprayer setup could be contributing factors.

Speaking to a packed room at Bradford’s auditorium, Bradley told stories of seeing two farmers take down signs advertising dicamba-tolerant crop technology, and seeing a volunteer soybean three-quarters of a mile from the nearest field that showed signs of dicamba drift damage.

Bradley called on chemical companies, farmers, applicators and experts at MU and the Department of Agriculture to work together.

“Everybody has a role,” he says. “It’s a call to action.”

Missouri Farm Bureau issued a statement supporting the decision to temporarily ban the use of dicamba.

“There are no good answers, no easy solutions, but the Department has acted in a way that both protects a technology important to crop farmers in our state, while also protecting those who are suffering losses,” MFB President Blake Hurst said.

“It is now incumbent on the companies active in this market to work with the Department to find a way forward that protects both farmers at risk of losing their crops to weed infestation and those farmers’ neighbors.”

The Missouri Soybean Association also issued a statement.

“With upwards of 200,000 soybean acres suspected damaged by dicamba products already during the 2017 growing season, it's clear that action is needed,” MSA president and Cape Girardeau farmer Matt McCrate said.

Sarah Alsager, director of communications for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, says the department tracks the number of drift damage complaints. For Fiscal Year 2017, which ran from July 1, 2016, to June 27, 2017, the department investigated 325 pesticide complaints, 212 of which were allegedly dicamba-related. For the 2017 calendar year, as of June 29 the department had investigated 179 pesticide complaints, 123 of which are allegedly dicamba-related.

Fiscal Year 2016, which ended at the end of June 2016, saw 97 pesticide complaints, 27 of which were allegedly dicamba-related.

Missouri had almost no dicamba investigations before 2016.

Benjamin Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.