Gary Cornell

Gary Cornell shows visitors to Asmark Training Institute in Bloomington, Illinois, some of the tools used in training farmers and applicators.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — When dicamba came into use in new herbicide products, it brought with it an evolving set of training requirements. Farmers, commodity groups and chemical companies responded.

Classes were taken, farmers and applicators were certified. There remains general agreement that for everyone’s well-being, mandatory training is required.

Still, farmers prefer the independence of voluntary training when at all possible, said Lyndsey Ramsey, associate director of natural and environmental resources in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s government affairs division.

Four years ago there was a push to make all anhydrous applications mandatory, but the Illinois Farm Bureau, some commodity groups and farmers pushed for voluntary participation for farmers. Training for commercial applicators remains mandatory.

Ramsey compared the approach to that of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, in which farmers voluntarily participate in best practices to improve water quality. Farmers and their supporters are active in recording the progress of these efforts to show that mandatory requirements aren’t needed to improve water quality, she said.

The Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council, created by state statute in 2012 and funded by a 75-cent per ton assessment on bulk fertilizer sold in Illinois, provides financial support for nutrient research and education programs to address environmental concerns, optimize nutrient use efficiency, and ensure soil fertility, Ramsey said. The NREC website offers education resources for farmers.

Still, the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association has always had a policy of recommending that farmers applying or transporting anhydrous get training, said the association’s president, Jean Payne. In the last three years, two farm fatalities in Illinois were related to anhydrous use, she said. In one incident, the tank overturned in transport; in the other, a farmer was working on a tool bar.

Training classes have a nominal fee, Payne said. Topics include maintaining tool bars and warnings, for example, about not wearing contact lenses when applying anhydrous.

“It is unforgiving,” Payne said the product.

In Illinois, classes are offered at Asmark Institute Agricenter in Bloomington, a central location within a four hour drive of approximately 80 percent of the anhydrous ammonia used in production agriculture in the United States, she said.

“I only expect to see more training on the horizon,” Payne said, as both insurance companies and public expectations are leading in this direction. While spraying occurs on private fields, farmers share the road when they are in transport.

Payne said she has talked with some farmers, who thought that if they had taken dicamba training last year, they don’t need to again. However, the 2019 U.S. EPA regulations require all applicators of dicamba herbicide products to complete dicamba-specific training this year even if they took it last year.

About 11,000 people were trained for dicamba application from November 2016 to March 2017 to meet the Illinois Department of Agriculture requirements, she said.

There are regulations this year that didn’t exist last year, she said. Many more areas are considered to be “sensitive,” she said, including pastures, pollinator areas, private residences and areas near rivers.

Ramsey said she expects more online training for dicamba to be announced after all the companies providing dicamba products complete their registration process this year. She said there has never been a label as intensive as dicamba’s.

“It’s a new environment for pesticides,” she said.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.