The dicamba wars

July 6, 2017

In the old west, as land began to be settled, fences started to go up. This did not set well with those early settlers and wires were cut regularly. It was a change many did not welcome.  Nevertheless, fences remained and the farmers and the cattlemen found a way to work things out.

There is a bit of a fence war brewing in our area again today. Only it is not really a fence, but still an issue that has, in some cases, caused neighbor to rise up against neighbor, to a degree.

The issue today is dicamba and 2,4-D drift. Dicamba and 2,4-D are weed killing chemicals used by cotton farmers to try to get rid of the weeds in their fields.

According to Tyler Mays, Texas AgriLife Extension Agent, IPM dicamba and 2,4-D are the most commonly used products in this area. “They are used because they work. We needed this technology. It has been a lifesaver for our cotton farmers. But, you have to follow the label.”

In Arkansas, dicamba use has been banned. This decision was made after over 242 complaints in 19 counties about dicamba drift damage. Not to mention that a farmer was even killed, allegedly over dicamba drift damage.

There are strict rules for using these chemicals, which if adhered to, minimize the risk of drift on to adjoining crops. But, West Texas weather being what it is, the risk of drift is never totally out of the picture.

So what is the problem with drift? Big problems. For crops which are not dicamba or 2,4-D resistant, the drift of these chemicals can cause major damage. Even to a person’s own cotton crop, if conventional seed is planted alongside biotech seed, and receives drift from these chemicals, damage will be done.

Also, it is important to note that dicamba resistant and 2,4-D resistant are not the same thing. These are two entirely different traits in seed.

Again, talk to your neighbors. Be sure you know what is planted next to you.

Peanuts are quite susceptible to drift damage. But probably, in our area, the most susceptible crop with the longest lasting damage is grapes.

As one producer put it, “You can experience a little damage on your peanuts or your cotton from this drift and it can affect your crop this year.

You get damage on your grape vines and you will still see it for the next few years, if the exposure was severe enough.”

Obviously, we are not talking about a small thing here. We are talking about the very thing that puts food on the table for these producers.

For a variety of reasons, many producers are reluctant to be identified when talking about dicamba, but several farmers were talked with and to a man, they all said the same thing. “If you will follow the directions, watch the weather and be conscientious of your neighbor, most damage can be avoided.”

But damage is still occurring. Andy Timmons, President of High Plains Winegrowers Association stated, “Virtually every vineyard in the area is seeing some damage, even the more remote places.”

When damage occurs, reports are sent in to the Texas Department of Agriculture who then will launch an investigation into who is responsible for the damage.

In grapes, dicamba damage shows up as curling or puckered leaves. 2,4-D damage causes the foilage to be more finger like, almost like an okra leaf looks.

But what you see is only the outward appearance of damage. The chemical enters the vine and damages the fruit. Grape grower and cotton farmer Ty Wilmeth stated, “Dicamba damage will stunt the growth and production of grapes. This damage can keep the vines from building the sugars necessary for quality grapes.”

Dicamba damage can affect the size of the fruit and also the quality of the fruit. As stated, this damage can last through a couple of harvest years. Andy stated, “We are not really sure exactly how long the damage lasts in the vine. While dicamba and 2,4-D continue to be used, damage can occur year after year.”

Even chemical dealers will tell you that, used correctly, there should not be any problem with dicamba drift, particularly in the newer formulations, such as Xtendimax with Vapor Grip and Engenia.

So, how is dicamba supposed to be used?

There are clear guidelines listed on the labels. But, perhaps the number one rule is to avoid spraying in a temperature inversion. This is particularly hard to do, but with the West Texas Mesonet App, producers can watch the weather and gauge the chance of an inversion occurring.

Typically, air temperature is warmest near the ground and colder at higher elevations. In an inversion, the opposite occurs and the temperature of the air column flips. The colder air is near the soil and warmer air higher up. In an inversion, tiny spray droplets will hang in that cooler air for hours and often all night. In that time between when they are sprayed and when the spray droplets actually hit vegetation, these miniscule particles can move quite a distance off target.

Anytime in the late afternoon and particularly the evening when winds get calm, a temperature inversion is likely to occur, especially in June and July, prime spraying months.

Any formulation can drift if sprayed during a temperature inversion, including Engenia and Xtendimax. Drift during an inversion is actually more similar to drift in a heavy wind where spray droplets physically move off target. While drift due to volatility is when the spray droplets hit the target only to, hours later, lift back up into the air as a gas. The older formulations of dicamba, such as Banvel are most prone to move off target this way.

Which brings up another point. A producer planning to spray dicamba should only use the newer formulations, such as Engenia or Xtendimax.

There are spray nozzles that are labeled specifically for dicamba usage. Fan spray nozzles increase the likelihood of drift. Tyler stresses the use of approved nozzles. “Lots of guys think they can get away with an old nozzle, but this is not true with this product. Follow the labels closely.”

Obviously, keep the spray boom low. This just makes sense for the producer spraying, as well as his neighbors. The higher the boom, the more likely the chance of drift.

Watch the speed at which you are applying. Hurry up is not what is needed in the application of dicamba. Many producers prefer to apply these type of chemicals themselves, rather than risk it to any hired help, no matter how reliable they may be. The responsibility for damage, should any occur, will fall back on the producer’s shoulders, not the one who applied the product.

Last, but certainly of prime importance, is to be aware of your neighbors. Be a good conscientious neighbor. Follow the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat their crop just as you would treat your own. If you wouldn’t want dicamba drifting on to your non-dicamba tolerant crops, then don’t do that to them.

The bottom line in this is that, as producers, we don’t need to take this technology for granted. If there are enough drift complaints, dicamba could be banned in Texas, just like it has been in Arkansas.

Like all the others in the Ag industry, Andy stresses using correct application methods. “Lots of the damage we have seen can be traced back to the product not being correctly applied.”

Timmons feels that working together is vital to the Texas Agriculture industry. “It is important that we are seen as working together, rather than at war.”

Terry County Tractor has stepped up to provide wind socks for producers to be able to gauge the wind direction in order to protect other crops.

And, as has been mentioned, there is an app to help gauge inversion.

With the tools and information we have at hand, there are plenty of ways to decrease the likelihood of damage to surrounding crops through the use of dicamba and 2,4-D.

Even though we like to say that cotton is what brought us to the dance, the truth is that diversified crops are what is keeping us dancing. As our crops diversify, we as producers must continue to be mindful of our neighbors so West Texas can continue to be known as an area where neighbors are more than neighbors, they are family.

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Category: Agriculture, Updates