New EPA restrictions on when and how to apply the weed killer dicamba are too burdensome for farmers, according to a lawsuit brought by trade groups representing soybean and cotton growers.

The restrictions include a cut-off date after which dicamba could not be sprayed and increased buffer zones, or areas where the weed killer can’t be applied, to protect plant and animal life. But the American Soybean Association and the Plains Cotton Growers, who filed the lawsuit in Washington D.C. federal court on Nov. 4, said the new restrictions exceed the EPA’s authority. 

“The Dicamba Decision imposes Application Restrictions that will limit Growers’ ability to respond to weather, pestilence, and other acts of God that significantly reduce yields and increase operational costs,” the complaint said.

In 2015, agribusiness giant Monsanto, now Bayer, released new genetically modified cotton and soybean crops that could withstand dicamba. Since then, the popular herbicide’s usage has skyrocketed. However, over the past four growing seasons, dicamba has been blamed for millions of acres of crop damage to non-resistant crops. 

In June, a federal court banned the herbicide for use on dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton crops. The court found the EPA downplayed the herbicide’s potential harms. 

But, last month, the EPA reinstated dicamba. It added restrictions in an attempt to comply with the federal court order and decrease the number of damage reports.

[Read more: EPA documents show dicamba damage worse than previously thought]

In the complaint, the farm groups argued that dicamba is necessary for farmers dealing with super weeds that are resistant to other herbicides, such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Otherwise, they will face significant financial loss as they battle the invasive plants.

“Glyphosate-resistant weeds functionally drag growers backwards in time,” the complaint said, arguing that not having dicamba could force farmers to pull weeds by hand, which is impractical.

One of the most noteworthy restrictions is a cut-off date after which dicamba cannot be sprayed. Dicamba tends to move the most in warmer weather, and the June 30 cut-off date in soybeans is designed to make sure the herbicide is sprayed in cooler weather. The complaint argues that some farmers may have to re-plant after flooding incidents and need a viable weed killer after June 30 for soybeans.

[Read more: Dicamba on Trial]

The complaint also argued that the new buffer zones are “arbitrary and capricious” and exceed the EPA’s authority under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act and the Endangered Species Act. The new buffer zones are 240-feet downwind in most counties and 310-feet downwind in counties where endangered species are present.

The complaint argued that the restrictions harm farmers’ bottom lines.

“These new buffers require Growers to leave cropland empty, driving down farm profitability, and financially harming Growers. In short, these buffers often functionally ‘require growers to remove land from production,’” the complaint said.In approving the new restrictions, the EPA said it has “90% confidence” the new control measures will protect crops.

Type of work:

Johnathan Hettinger focuses on pesticide coverage for Investigative Midwest. Growing up in central Illinois, Johnathan saw and had family members working in all aspects of agribusiness, from boots-in-the-field...

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