Dicamba Tolerant Soybeans Will Challenge Our Management

I know that we are all hoping for some August rains.  For many people in Ontario they did receive some needed moisture last weekend.  However, there are still many areas of Ontario in drought conditions.  It is getting a bit late in the game if corn hasn’t received rainfall, but sometimes soybeans can really benefit from rain in August.  Ditto across the great North American Corn Belt.  Maybe that’s why soybean prices have retreated to new levels over the last couple of weeks.

August usually finds me catching up on all the tasks that need to be done.  Usually that means that I am tiling or re-tiling some of my land.  In deep southwestern Ontario tile drainage is part of the way we sustain ourselves.  Without it, we couldn’t survive economically.  So I will be re-tiling this summer later in August.   The rest of the time you might find me pulling weeds.

I’m sure some of you might have laughed out loud with that last sentence.  Some of my younger readers actually can’t believe that some of us hoed soybeans back in our youth.  Some of us, like me, still do it despite using all kinds of chemicals to kill weeds.  I grow the same type of soybeans that I grew 40 years ago as a teenager.  They are non-GMO so I cannot use glyphosate or any other non-selective chemical that might be coming down the pipe.  So I do the best job I can, but I find every year there’s always a weed control problem somewhere.  So that has me out pulling weeds or looking for a crew that might do the same.

If you’ve read this column over the last 30 years you will know that when it comes to crop production I think it’s all about yield. Ever since the advent of biotech crops, I’ve said it’s not about the herbicide tolerance; it’s all about the yield.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people of that.  Needless to say, there are new formulations coming out on soybeans in the next few years where you’ll be able to spray dicamba products over top.  These Xtend soybeans are in our fields in 2016, but dicamba is not yet registered for use.

When I first heard about spraying dicamba overtop soybeans I thought back to my youth when I sprayed it on corn.  The problem with dicamba was it would drift and we always had to be a bit lucky to avoid the drift.  I can remember one year having 50 acres out of a 100-acre soybean field crinkled from dicamba.  Soybeans were one crop, but tomatoes were another and you certainly didn’t want to get dicamba on tomatoes.  That would be big dollars and nobody wanted to go there, but it seemed every year there were problems.  So when I first heard about dicamba soybeans, I thought all these problems might be coming back, except in a much bigger way.

Then I read my DTN colleague Pam Smith’s article entitled “Off-Target Trauma, States Dig Through Dicamba Claims.”  In the article Pam gives an excellent description of the many problems of dicamba drift that are happening now in parts of the United States.  In 2016 Xtend soybeans are being grown, but lower volatility dicamba products are not yet registered.  EPA is yet to give approval, so farmers aren’t allowed to spray these crops with dicamba.  However, older formulations of dicamba have been used illegally in many cases and drift has caused quite a few problems in the Delta states this summer.  Reading through Pam’s piece, I thought it was a bit of a nightmare.  These are just a few rogue fields across the Delta states, what is going to happen when the EPA gives approval to lower volatility dicamba products in future years?  To me, I can’t see this ending well.

It is a tough problem and it was something that we will surely be facing in Ontario in future years.  With our diverse agriculture, you can almost imagine problems developing. We don’t have Satan’s weeds like Glyphosate resistant Palmer Amaranth, but we have the technology to fight it off anyway.  In 2017 in 2018, dicamba drift will be an increasing concern.  Newer sprayer operators raised in the era of unlimited glyphosate will have a tall drink of water.  Liability will be accentuated.

On top of that, there will be other problems.  I haven’t even mentioned weed resistance yet, but that will come.  I might even have 50% of my soybeans crinkled up again!  Boy, won’t that be fun.  However, at the end of the day somehow we will have to find a way to make this all work.  This cat was out of the bag a long time ago.  It’s just another challenge, just like all of those in the past.  Somehow, we’ll find a way, but this thing sure doesn’t look seamless.