A Drifting Concern?

May 7, 2012 02:26 AM

Questions—and answers—emerge from new 2,4-D trait technology

Many row crop farmers are excited about a new wave of trait technologies currently in the pipeline that will feature tolerance to herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba. The first of these—the Enlist Weed Control System from Dow AgroSciences—is near completion, expecting regulatory approval and commercial release as soon as next year.

But a group of specialty crop growers is pushing back by petitioning USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an environmental impact statement for these synthetic auxin-tolerant crops before final approvals are granted. The Save Our Crops Coalition (SOCC) is primarily concerned with potential drift issues from using dicamba and 2,4-D.

Steve Smith of Red Gold, an Indiana based food processor, says the SOCC is not opposed to genetic modification, but it is concerned about damage to non-target crops. The group notes that 2,4-D and dicamba-tolerant crops are expected to be grown in close proximity to numerous specialty crops, including tomatoes, grapes, green beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins—all of which are highly sensitive to these herbicides.

"It is the projection of a 1070% increase in the use of 2,4-D that threatens the survival of specialty crop production in the Midwest," Smith says. "We aren’t just making bold and unsubstantiated claims. The problems exist currently, and we need to make sure that they do not get worse."

Other farmers, such as Indiana corn and soybean farmer Kip Tom, argue that EPA has already vetted the environmental safety of these herbicides.

"A science-based discussion reveals that dicamba and 2,4-D are safe when used appropriately," he says. "EPA has reviewed and re-reviewed the data to confirm this, and millions of consumers and farmers have successfully and safely used products containing 2,4-D and dicamba over the last several decades."

Drift should be taken very seriously, Tom says, and adds that farmers and agribusiness have done just that.

"[Drift] is a serious thing all of us manage on both sides of the fence," he says. "Application equipment, labels and formulations, licensing and training have greatly reduced drift risk over the last few years. The new herbicide-tolerant crop systems opposed by this coalition are designed around new sprayer technology, formulations and application practices for the express purpose of protecting sensitive crops from drift."

Dow AgroSciences officials say they have mitigated much of the risk by developing a formulation of 2,4-D that has a much lower volatility. The company plans to package this new 2,4-D choline with glyphosate and market it as Enlist Duo. This product will be the lone authorized 2,-4-D product for use on Enlist crops.

Problem solved? SOCC officials say they are worried there is still an incentive for farmers to use much cheaper—and much more volatile—generic 2,4-D formulations. And although Smith says Dow should be congratulated for coming up with the low-volatility formulation, he wants assurance that other companies developing dicamba and 2,4-D resistant crops will also take every step possible to account for potential specialty crop damage.

"We’re hopeful that everyone will do the right thing," Smith says.

Smith and SOCC ultimately want effective measures in place to protect against damage to neighboring crops. The organization wants EPA to quantify expected losses and put in place an indemnity program that will allow compensation for non-target crop damage.

"We want our regulatory agencies to assess what the impact will be and think more about the big picture," he says.

You can learn more about the Enlist Weed Control System at www.enlist.com, and you can learn more about the Save Our Crops Coalition at http://saveourcrops.org/.


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