Updated Feb. 14, 2024
The EPA released an existing stocks order Feb. 14 with guidance about dicamba products previously registered for over-the-top use on dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. The order authorizes limited sale and distribution of Bayer XtendiMax, BASF Engenia and Syngenta Tavium dicamba herbicides. According to the American Soybean Association (ASA), the EPA has declared farmers can accept “existing stocks," defined as previously registered pesticide products currently in the U.S. that were packaged, labeled and released for shipment prior to Feb. 6, the effective date of the federal ruling on dicamba registrations. The existing stocks order also clarified that dicamba product already in the possession of distributors, co-ops and other parties for sale before that date can be sold and distributed, within set guidelines.
“The court’s decision on dicamba instantly left tens of millions of acres of U.S. farmland in limbo—and in limbo a matter of weeks before spring planting," says Josh Gackle, ASA president and soybean farmer from North Dakota. "We appreciate the certainty EPA’s existing stocks order provides to farmers from North Dakota where I farm all the way to Florida and everywhere in between. This ruling potentially affects more than 50 million acres of dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton—an area larger than the state of Nebraska—so again, we are very appreciative of EPA’s decision to let us get through the 2024 growing season by using any product already in the delivery pipeline.”
Ted McKinney, the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, also commended the order, saying the action will "prevent severe detrimental impacts to our food, fuel and fiber availability.”
A federal court in Arizona has vacated the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2020 approvals of dicamba-based herbicides sold by Bayer (XtendiMax), BASF (Engenia) and Syngenta (Tavium). U.S. District Court Judge David Bury said the agency violated procedures mandating public input when it reauthorized dicamba back in 2020.
The ruling causes some uncertainty among no-tillers who use the products for weed control. 21% of growers surveyed for the 2023 No-Till Farmer benchmark study used dicamba in 2023 for corn, and 22% used it for soybeans.
No-tillers planning to use dicamba this growing season might need to consider other options, says Bill Johnson, weed scientist for Purdue University.
“If I were the grower who has made purchases of the 3 dicamba products, I’d be talking with the retailer and making some decisions on a plan B if they are unable to use what they’ve already purchased,” Johnson said in an interview with Successful Farming.
At the same time, no-tillers might want to avoid rash decisions until a couple big questions are answered, says Charlie Cahoon, extension weed specialist for North Carolina State University.
"Although I will not discourage growers from trying to switch herbicide technology in response to the order, a couple of unknowns remain," Cahoon says. "The main two that come to mind are, first, will the EPA appeal the decision? And If the order is upheld, will growers be able to use existing stocks (either on-farm, at the retail level, or registrant level)? I know it’s hard not to react quickly to this ill-timed news, but we need to see EPA response in order to make a well-informed decision about our 2024 weed management plans."
Reuters reports the ruling bans growers from spraying dicamba products in 2024 unless the EPA allows them to use stocks of the herbicide that have already been shipped, according to Meredith Stevenson, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety.
“It’s safe to say that, since most over-the-top (OTT) dicamba products have likely not been shipped to growers, they will not be used this upcoming growing season,” Stevenson said.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) responded with a clear request: "We need a dicamba existing stocks order stat!" The ASA says the ruling puts farmers in a costly bind and could impact more than 50 million acres of dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton — an area larger than the state of Nebraska.
"We are clearly disappointed with the court's dicamba ruling, but more pressing, soybean and other farmers are exceptionally concerned about what this means as we approach the 2024 planting season," says Josh Gackle, ASA president and soybean farmer from North Dakota. "If the administration does not issue an existing stocks order so we can use the millions of dollars of product already ordered for spring planting, we are in a world of hurt. Not only is there immediate financial loss from not being able to use the product we've ordered, but the decision puts tremendous weight on this season's yield capabilities. If we cannot quickly access dicamba or acquire viable alternatives, we'll likely have lower production this year from uncontrolled weeds — and that means even greater revenue loss."
The National Cotton Council (NCC) adds that the ruling will be felt across the Cotton Belt as dicamba-tolerant varieties account for more than 75% of U.S. cotton acres. The NCC is urging the EPA to appeal the ruling immediately.
“The ruling comes at an especially problematic time of the year as many producers have already made their cropping decisions, secured seed, and are doing preparatory field work,” the NCC said in a statement. “The timing of this ruling also will not allow for the production of seed with alternative herbicide technology in time for 2024 planting. Without widely available alternatives, losing the foundational herbicides in the dicamba-tolerant weed control system will put millions of acres in jeopardy of reduced production. The loss of over-the-top dicamba products exacerbates an already difficult economic situation with current prices below the costs of production.
“If allowed to stand, the court’s decision is another blow that will stifle the development and adoption of new technologies that not only increase productivity but bring forth environmental benefits such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, we urge EPA to move quickly in exploring all available options to mitigate the economic damage that will result if growers do not have access to this critical crop protection product.”
BASF says the ruling may threaten the livelihoods of soybean and cotton farmers who rely on OTT dicamba to control resistant weeds and that most growers have already determined which seeds and chemicals they will use for 2024.
“These weeds can significantly impact yields as they compete for the same water and nutrients as the crop, which can lead to significant financial harm to the farmer,” the company said in a statement. “The EPA followed a science-based approach to evaluate and manage ecological risks and balance agricultural and societal benefits before granting the current Engenia herbicide registration. Engenia herbicide is generally safe when used according to its label.”
BASF added that agricultural input supply chains will be significantly affected by the unanticipated chemistry demands on more than 40 million dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton acres directly impacted by the ruling.
Bayer and Syngenta echoed similar disappointment as both await guidance from the EPA.
“We are reviewing our legal options and await the EPA’s guidance in connection with the court’s decision,” Syngenta said in a statement. “The use of dicamba is integral to controlling broadleaf weeds and invasive plants. It is imperative that farmers have access to newer dicamba technologies as they work to protect their livelihoods, supply food, and meet ever-increasing weed control challenges in an environmentally safe and sound way.”
“We respectfully disagree with the ruling against the EPA’s registration decision, and we are assessing our next steps,” Bayer said in a statement.
After a U.S. appeals court blocked dicamba-based herbicide sales in June 2020 and ruled the EPA understated risks related to sprayings, the EPA eventually reauthorized dicamba use again with new restrictions in October 2020.