By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the chair of the Save Our Crops Coalition (SOCC), a Jan. 30 meeting in the nation’s capital was an opportunity to put his organization’s cause before the appropriate decision-makers.
Since its founding last year, the SOCC has been concerned with off-target damage from exposure to the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba. Its concern was heightened by the proposed introduction of 2,4-D- and dicamba-tolerant corn and soybeans, which could lead to an increased use of the chemicals, said Steve Smith, SOCC chair.
SOCC currently has four petitions before the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the chemicals. The late January trip offered an opportunity to meet with key people in both agencies, noted Smith, also director of agriculture with Elwood, Ind.-based Red Gold.
While those officials were unable to give him a timeline for responses to the petitions, he said they seemed to “understand where we’re coming from. They’re engaged on the issues and seriously looking at them.
“I don’t want to sound like the squeaky wheel gets all the grease, but every so often you have to get in front of them,” he said. “If you sit back and wait for things to happen, you’ll be waiting a long time.”
The SOCC has amended two petitions it filed last year requesting an environmental impact statement from the USDA and a scientific advisory panel from the EPA for both 2,4-D and dicamba. Because of an agreement reached in September with Dow AgroSciences regarding the company’s Enlist 2,4-D formulation, the amended petitions request actions only for Monsanto’s dicamba, Smith said.
The organization has also filed two more petitions, both with the EPA. The first calls for all current generic forms of 2,4-D to be labeled to preclude their use on 2,4-D-tolerant crops, he said. Dow officials are in agreement with the petition and Smith said he doesn’t anticipate a problem in getting it approved.
The second petition concerns residue tolerance levels for crops near where dicamba may be used. Currently there are no tolerance levels for nearly all food crops for dicamba, which means any amount of residue would be considered an adulteration, thus rendering the crop useless, he said.
“This is a real concern for us because (dicamba’s) going to move,” he noted.
The tendency for synthetic auxins to volatilize, or for their active ingredients to evaporate, has been a primary concern of SOCC. The active ingredients could travel 1-2 miles from their intended target, Smith has said.
The chemicals also may be spread through direct drift or spray tank contamination.
While Monsanto offi
cials agree tolerance levels should be set, they want approval for dicamba-tolerant crops before those levels are known – something Smith opposes.
“They have submitted (to get the tolerance levels) and we applaud that,” he said. “But the tolerance levels won’t be ready for a couple of years, so they’d be releasing before that. They agree there ought to be tolerances, except on things we eat.”
As a part of the petition, SOCC requested tolerance levels be set for dozens of specialty crops it says are likely to be grown near dicamba-tolerant corn, cotton and soybeans. Included on the list are varieties of tomatoes, peppers, muskmelon, pumpkins, watermelon and summer and winter squash.
In a statement, Monsanto said proper stewardship and herbicide use are the best ways to prevent off-site movement. In addition: “We also have plans to collaboratively conduct testing to establish new uses and residue tolerances for dicamba herbicide on a wide range of sensitive crops, including those listed by SOCC in their press release.
“The EPA does a full health and environmental safety assessment, including establishing tolerances for all pesticides based on the intended use. We are confident EPA will extensively evaluate dicamba products as it does all herbicides, including their responsible use.”
Smith said he would be pleased if the SOCC could come to an agreement with Monsanto similar to the one it has with Dow, but added, “I don’t think we’re very far along in reaching that kind of agreement.”
SOCC’s agreement with Dow calls for labeling changes for Enlist that would require the label to state the product may not be applied toward sensitive crops at any wind speed. The agreement also calls for the company to work with farmers on the proper use of Enlist, by educating them on such things as wind speed and nozzle use.
In addition, Dow will strive to ensure farmers don’t buy seeds and then purchase a generic formulation of 2,4-D to use with them.