The good news is, there haven’t been as many dicamba-caused soybean damage reports as there were a year ago. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Some of the states that reported damage estimates last year aren’t doing so in 2018, so it’s hard to get a very clear picture. Also, damage reports to specialty crops like ornamental trees, which have been hit much harder than last year, are on the rise.

“Compared to last year, we have more off-target injury issues with dicamba this year,” said Amit Jhala, associate professor and Extension weed management specialist at the University of Nebraska. “We do have complaints of non-Xtend soybean damage, but the numbers are higher in other sensitive crops like ornamental trees, grapevines, and even alfalfa fields.”

Further south into Kansas, Dr. Dallas Peterson, Extension weed management specialist with Kansas State University, said the soybean damage reports aren’t quite as prevalent as in 2017. Part of the reason for that may be the simple fact that there were more Xtend soybeans planted than last year.

“In some areas around Kansas, it might be up to 95 percent Xtend soybeans out in the fields,” Peterson said. “There’s also a much better awareness of the usage guidelines and the potential problems with non-target injury. Neighbors that aren’t planting Xtend soybeans likely also communicated that fact to fellow farmers.”

Kevin Bradley, professor in the Division of Plant Sciences with the University of Missouri, has been keeping careful track of dicamba damage reports in various farm states in recent years. He said it’s hard to compare this year’s damage estimates with 2017 due to several different factors.

“I know a lot of people are trying to do that,” Bradley said, “but we just don’t have the data. From my standpoint, it’s not a lot different from last year. When you look at the maps that we (University of Missouri) put out, we don’t have about seven or eight states that are reporting damage estimates like they did last year.

“We do know there are plenty of problems in other non-crop sites. We do know there are a lot of homeowners and specialty crop growers are turning in a lot more suspected damage cases in this year than farmers are.”

Jhala said Nebraska farmers planted 500,000 acres of dicamba-resistant soybeans last year. In 2018, those numbers jumped up to 3.5 million acres. He said the offseason training requirements for farmers and applicators were valuable.

However, In spite of the extra education over the winter, he’s not surprised that soybeans in farm states are struggling with more dicamba damage reports.

“Dicamba is a volatile compound,” Jhala said. “I believe that volatility is contributing to the damage reports again this year, especially when it comes to injury to non-target species like ornamental trees. There’s no question about tank contamination when it comes to ornamental trees, right? No one is going to spray herbicide on ornamental trees.”

While Peterson feels Kansas damage reports are down in numbers, it’s still much more prevalent than he’d like it to be.

Dicamba damage is nothing new in Kansas. Years ago, farmers typically quit spraying dicamba on their cornfields after soybean stands were established, but that’s not the case anymore.

“We’ve sprayed it on corn for years,” Peterson said. “Most of the corn applications went on prior to soybeans becoming established in many cases, but not always. The application time period was typically a little earlier than soybeans, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have problems back in.

“Anybody that grew beans in the western part of the state almost always experienced some level of dicamba injury. That was just kind of the norm since we sprayed so much dicamba in western Kansas in wheat stubble, corn, grain sorghum, and elsewhere. It was not uncommon, so they just kind of lived with it.”

Bradley said the Missouri Department of Agriculture is investigating reports of damage in watermelons, grapes, strawberries, peaches, and other types of fruit trees. The MDA is also investigating over 500 acres of residential trees with reported damage.

“We’re one of the states with a lot of damage reports,” he said. “Illinois has had a major increase this year and so has Indiana.

“I think there was a lot of well-intentioned applicators that did the absolute best they could do this year,” Bradley added. “I know there were some farmers and retailers that did everything right this year and still had problems. Training can only get you so far if you have a product that can still move after you apply it.”

Bradley said the Environmental Protection Agency will make a decision on the future of dicamba in late August or early September. The EPA registration for dicamba use runs out on Nov. 9.

I started out as a radio broadcaster for 22 years, then made the switch to full-time freelance journalism. Agriculture’s in my background through working on the family dairy farm. My family includes a wife and 6 kids, so we're busy.