I recently attended a meeting at the Arkansas State Plant Board where the new dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant crops were discussed. There were presentations by several university weed scientists and representatives of the respective companies. I think the meeting was a step in the right direction as these technologies proceed toward registration.
The Arkansas Plant Board is extremely concerned about how to go forward with these technologies since a lot of problems have occurred with both in the past. Some of the most emotional and heated meetings I have ever attended have been some of the public hearings over 2,4-D drift in previous years.
The companies involved have worked extremely hard to make these herbicides safer to use. The huge question is how much safer is safe enough. Some of the confidentially agreements have made the disclosure of information difficult. Decisions regarding these technologies must be science-based and all the science must be available. The lack of science has been very frustrating to the Plant Board staff to this point.
I got the distinct impression at the meeting that this was about to change — as it should. The meeting gave everyone present a chance to better understand each other’s positions and views. Several farmers present have heard about these technologies and are eager to try them.
One farmer asked why these are being scrutinized so much more closely than other products such as Roundup or Liberty. The answer is simply the relative toxicity of dicamba to soybeans and 2,4-D to cotton. Up until now the companies were simply telling everyone they are plenty safe to use around the same crops without the resistance gene. This has to be proven in the next couple of years.
I was asked to provide some historical perspective. (You know you are getting old when you are the one called upon for historical perspective.)
As I stated in a previous article, almost every time we had a blow up with 2,4-D it was due to someone introducing a new and supposedly safer formulation. In every case there was nothing really wrong with the new formulation, it was simply due to over-exuberance on the part of both the companies and applicators.
2,4-D is a very effective herbicide and we would be using it on essentially every acre of rice if we could. Every farmer and applicator would like to have a 2,4-D that would not move. In the past all it has taken is for folks to think they had a 2,4-D that would not move and the train wreck occurred.
I believe the new Enlist herbicide is a safer formulation. The question is how safe is safe enough. What must be accomplished in the time leading up to registration is how to keep over-exuberance from happening again.
There have not been as many issues with dicamba because historically not much has been used. However, it has been my experience that when significant amounts of dicamba were used in soybean country, train wrecks occurred with it as well.
Both technologies are very much needed, and I hope they can be successful. My advice to the group concurred with that of the university weed scientists — find a way to ease into these technologies. That will require patience on the part of the companies as well as farmers who want new technology.
I got the feeling that the companies and Plant Board are much closer to being on the same page after the meeting. The Plant Board does not want to prohibit progress of new technology, but at the same time it does not want a blow up. The companies do not want a blow up either. I look forward to watching these stacked trait systems progress. I have said we are headed into uncharted waters. However, I am more optimistic that we can find a way for them to be successful.