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Yield impact of dicamba injury unknown, label changes possible in SD

The impact of dicamba drift on fields won't be known until soybean harvest begins. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)

HURON, S.D. — The South Dakota Department of Agriculture fielded dozens of dicamba injury complaints from off-target drift this season, and they're still taking input from farmers to determine the total number of acres hit. State officials are looking at possible label changes for spraying dicamba on Xtend soybeans next year, but a lot of that hinges on what farmers find in the fields this fall.

Farmers that had some or widespread cupping in soybeans this season may not know the full production impact until harvest.

"The combine will tell, we don't know," said Reno Brueggeman, who farms near Miller. "Nobody knows. It's one of those things that nobody's seen before. Maybe nothing is going to come of it, maybe there won't be any yield loss, but nobody knows."

South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers agrees about the unknowns.

"For the most part I don't think we're going to know until harvest gets here," he said. "Fortunately, we do have the technology of yield monitors and things on the majority of farms, so I think that will help."

Agronomists are looking at past research on the yield impact of dicamba on soybeans for clues. "The real key was, as long as the growing point wasn't hurt, it was felt that beans will be fine and recover," said Paul Johnson, South Dakota State University Extension weed specialist.

However, he said most of the research was done 40 years ago and the application timing was different then.

"The difference is now we are spraying it a month later than we did before, and we really don't know how those effects will compare the same or not," Johnson said. "In a lot of cases, maybe we were pushing the window on the application timing, because once we go past the last week of June, we're going to start flowering and it is just labeled for R1."

Once more is known on yield impact, then South Dakota officials can determine label changes for 2018.

"I think we definitely will see changes in the labeling," Jaspers said. "In South Dakota we did a one-year, restricted label which will expire in December, so virtually it's done as the application season is done for this year, so we would have to reassess that label anyway. I'm looking at maybe restricting the time of day to try to get away from those inversion issues, or maybe have a restriction as far as growth stage or calendar date, so we don't get into the hotter portions of the growing season."

Jaspers encourages farmers to report damage and yield results to help them with that decision-making process.

"We're definitely hoping that people will continue to report to the Department of Ag," he said. "Right on our website there's a link to a dicamba reporting page."

Jaspers is also confident they'll require the product manufacturers to do more education with farmers and applicators before the next growing season.

"In South Dakota we required a lot of education on their part — to come and do a lot of training and education of the applicators. I'm pretty confident that will be one of the key issues right there," he said.

On the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency is working with herbicide companies and manufacturers to decide if they will impose other label or application changes.

"I'd be surprised if we won't see some modifications on the state level," said Johnson.

The other lingering question is if a farmer proves there was a yield loss, will crop insurance cover that loss? Brueggeman, who is also an agent, said no.

"Crop insurance has to be a natural loss, natural cause of disaster. Your farm liability insurance is going to have to step in on this," he said.

Despite that, Brueggeman said a large number of farmers are gearing up to plant Xtend soybeans again in 2018 because of the excellent weed control they get, especially on resistant weeds like kochia and waterhemp. He said the technology is not going away.

"There's a lot of people who are mad and it's understandable, but I hope they have an open mind. We can get through this point," he said.