XtendiMax treated soybean field.
Soybeans treated with XtendiMax, in south central Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Amit Jhala.

A coalition of environmental groups and farmers has filed an emergency motion in a federal court that would immediately block the use of three dicamba-based herbicides. 

The motion, if successful, would mean farmers would have to stop using certain dicamba herbicides earlier than they had anticipated and comes as Nebraska farmers are moving into the chemicals’ application timeframe. 

The emergency motion follows a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency that effectively banned the use of Xtendimax, Engenia and FeXapan. One of the issues with those herbicides is “dicamba drift,” when the chemical spreads to fields that don’t have dicamba-resistant crops and damages crops. The EPA announced that producers who had the products in their existing stock could apply the product until July 31. 

The emergency motion, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network says that, “Extraordinary events require extraordinary actions.” The petitioners take issue with the EPA’s decision to allow for the continued application of the three dicamba-based herbicides through July. In the emergency motion, they take issue with the EPA’s decision as “eviscerating it by making it prospective as to existing products.”

If the court sides with the emergency motion, farmers may have to seek a dicamba-based alternative. It could be a hard sell for those already invested in their current supplies and one that would present the additional challenge of finding suppliers.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said the court’s decision “couldn’t have really come at a worst possible time for farmers that use dicamba.” 

Low commodity prices, the trade war with China and COVID-19 supply chain disruptions have already severely impacted farmers.

Many Nebraska farmers made the seed and herbicidal purchases last fall when the formal registration for the chemicals were still valid.

Speaking to the potential scope of Nebraska soybean production that could be affected, Amit Jhala, an associate professor and weed management specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, offered a conservative estimate, saying that if the emergency motion is granted, it could affect around 2 million acres of soybeans.

Jhala said Tavium, a dicamba product sold by Syngenta and registered with the EPA in 2019, would be the only dicamba-based herbicide available. It is not affected by the ruling, but finding available supplies might be challenging, he said.

George Cunningham, conservation chairman of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club, faults the EPA for farmers’ current frustrations, seeing the court’s decision as a rebuking an injudicious regulator. The court decision banning dicamba-based herbicides addresses conservationists’ long held criticisms of the state’s prevailing farming method.

“We need to be getting away from this industrial corn and soybean system that we have that, essentially, is the feedstock for the massive amounts of animals that we house in concentrated feeding operations,” Cunningham said. “Getting back to a diverse cropping system, with cover crops, in here, would greatly inhibit the ability of these problematic plant species from entering these fields.”