Palm Trees, Dicamba and Wild Carrot: Killing Weeds Gets Harder

There are always a myriad of challenges in agriculture and 2020 isn’t 2019, but it has had had its share. In my neighbourhood in south western Ontario, we are miles ahead of 2019, but sporadic heavy rains have caused quite a few issues. Crops are looking tough, like they have been through a wrestling match. I had to replant some crops this past week, after rains failed to free entombed soybeans. Then there are the weeds. Every year, there seems to be a new weed challenge.

My latest weed challenge is Wild Carrot or what some people call Queen Anne’s Lace. It’s been around almost forever, but lately has been moving into the middle of my fields. I had a real problem last year and my hope this spring was to fire every weapon I had at it. I’ve had mixed results, so it’s back to the drawing board. Whether its glyphosate resistant weeds like Canada Fleabane or something else, finding that silver herbicide bullet to keep non gmo soybeans cleans seems a never-ending journey.

With that as a backdrop, I was incredibly interested in what happened earlier this month in the US when the EPA stopped the use of XtendiMax, FeXapan and Eugenia, three forms of dicamba, which were recently developed to spray on “dicamba resistant” soybeans. It was a very complicated decision, but EPA cancelled the registration on June 8th, but were allowing farmers to continue to use whatever inventory they had in their possession as of June 3rd. You can just imagine the fallout from American farm groups and farmers who use those herbicides. As it is, the decision stands and everybody will have to get used to it.

I’m mixed about where we are. I look into my fields and see weeds increasingly hard to kill with my costs rising. I don’t grow GM soybeans, but I understand and respect growers who do. In the United States there are “nuclear resistant” (my words) weeds which there is almost no answer for. What do you do with Palmer Amaranth or Waterhemp which is resistant to just about everything? Well, “dicamba soybeans” were developed partly to fight that reality. Roundup soybeans were developed before that to fight weeds too. In the rush to make ever more money, companies locked down farmers with technology use agreements, threatened lawsuits, and a host of other measures to nurture their profits. The 2020 reality was ignored even though everybody knew dicamba has always been a culprit in off-target injury.

I’ve used lots of dicamba in corn fields in the past. It worked wonderfully, but you had to use it when the corn was small and frankly, there wasn’t many other crops out of the ground at that time. However, I successfully sprayed dicamba on corn in a neighbourhood of tomatoes, vegetables and other susceptible crops. I never had an issue with it, but there was always drift issues. Often times, they didn’t amount to much. Needless to say, most everybody was a good neighbour and was careful. I must admit when I first heard that there might be a dicamba soybeans, I thought that just might work.

Clearly though, dicamba soybeans were a problem, ditto for dicamba cotton in the southern United States as off-target injury became a bigger thing. This was part of the reason that the Ninth Circuit sided with a group of farm and environmental groups on June 3rd to vacate registrations of these herbicides. Simply put, dicamba soybeans were always a product which was very risky and that eventually cause the firestorm to where we are today, between a rock and a hard place.

I would argue is was wrong from the very start. It was a way for Big Ag to segment the seed markets to drive up their profits and control. Along the way, they got it very wrong. At the advent of the agricultural biotechnology age, I thought we’d be growing palm trees in southwestern Ontario, it was such magic. However, what’s it been about for the last 25 years is selling more and more herbicide. We now are using more and more herbicide and pesticides to clean up the mess that has been created in the interest of corporate greed.

It didn’t have to be this way, but the toothpaste is long out of the tube, with no putting it back. Foisting blame on somebody now is too late, as our weed problems are just so much more complex. It doesn’t look like Dicamba is the answer. That drama will continue to play out. In Canada, we can still use those products. I don’t have the answer, but I do know it’s getting harder to kill weeds. Those 5-way herbicide cocktails we employ now as hard as it is to imagine, just might get more complex.

What also might be hard to imagine are clean fields. Back in the day, agronomists told us if your fields are clean, you’re spending too much on herbicide. Oh, how things have changed. Hoeing beans was never my forte.