Update June 13, 2019: Illinois Director of Agriculture John Sullivan had placed a June 30 deadline on spraying dicamba on soybeans, but the state extended the deadline to July 15.
With planting behind schedule all across the Midwest, farmers are looking for the best ways to protect the crop they have in the ground.
Dicamba — one of those tools — came into this growing season with more question marks than answers, and after delayed planting and added restrictions for 2019, one producer is prepared to switch away from the hot-button herbicide.
“More and more it seems like I have neighbors that are switching to other soybeans,” Sidney, Iowa, farmer Jeff Jorgenson said. “There’s just too much risk. I bet in 2020 I switch out of it. All we do as farmers is risk management. Agriculture is already enough risk the way it is.”
The restrictions and buffer zones created with the EPA’s new label rules are causing Jorgenson to be frustrated about possibly discarding one of his options.
“This is a tough deal,” Jorgenson said. “It’s great and it flat out works, and I hate I can’t use it because it’s a tool in the toolbox, but I think it’s waning for me if I’m going to be able to keep using it. When my neighbor said he went to (another soybean variety) — and he was one of the first to go to dicamba 100% — when he said that was enough, it was like ‘oh, man.’”
Jorgenson has used dicamba in recent years, and he expects there is still be plenty of time before the cutoff date in Iowa — 45 days after planting — to apply the chemical to his soybeans, of which he has about 50% planted.
“If you don’t get to use the technology, it’s pretty expensive,” he said. “It’s not a cheap chemical program. I looked around for beans to see if I could find my acreage number, but I couldn’t really find what I needed. We did go with dicamba (this year), but we are pretty choosy.”
He said that while he has a dicamba product in the shed for his remaining soybeans, his retailer is aware he is ready to switch to a 2,4 D herbicide for the rest of his acres if needed.
The restrictions for 2019 also include a timing restriction, mandating applications to take place one hour after sunrise and two hours before sunset, and require wind speeds to be below 10 miles per hour. This label will run through the 2020 growing season.
In Illinois, there is a June 30 cutoff date to use the herbicide, according to Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, which adds to some of the rush for farmers.
Numbers for training applicators in Illinois were down slightly this year, Payne said, with around 9,000 people going through the process compared to 11,000 people who went through the training in 2018. She said attendees range from commercial and private applicators to those involved in agriculture who simply want to be aware of the labels, so there may not have been a decrease in those who are actually applying the chemical.
“We still trained an awful lot of people,” she said.
Payne estimated that Illinois uses dicamba on around 60% of the soybean crop. However, due to the major delays in soybean planting in Illinois, she said the effects of the new label restrictions are hard to determine at this point.
“I think since so little has been done, we are probably going to be in July before we have an assessment on how this season went,” she said. “We are optimistic that when we get into June, we will see the sun come out more than one day at a time.”
With producers still figuring out if they will find a window that fits their planting schedule, Jorgenson said he hopes he can continue to use dicamba because a new solution will take time.
“I hope it’s a blip, and then we have more soybean varieties get stacked genetics, but soybeans are slow,” he said. “It’s hard to breed soybeans to get these traits in them.”
Payne stressed farmers need to remember that while their use of dicamba may be limited, it shouldn’t be the only option available to them.