More

Anyone who has spent any time on a farm knows this: farming is an uncertain profession. 

There is a boatload of random variables that farmers have little or zero control over that can make or break profitability in a growing season. Be it weather, seed failure, disease, pests, unexpected swings in domestic or foreign trade, a significant decline in the options market due to spooked speculators... I could go on, but you get the idea. If you want certainty in what you do for a living don't opt to become a farmer.

So, as you might expect, farmers get dang riled up when the federal government, the courts, the Environmental Protection Agency, environmentalists or anyone else for that matter insert their own brand of uncertainty into the headaches of growing a crop.

Such is the case right now with the herbicide dicamba. In about eight weeks, give or take, deep south farmers will begin planting their 2021 crops. But whether or not spraying dicamba primarily on cotton and soybeans will remain legal is anyone's guess.

Last October EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler announced shiny new five-year registrations for dicamba formulas produced by Bayer AG, BASF, and Syngenta. That should have cleared the way for the upcoming growing season.

Except...history has shown dicamba doesn't stay where its sprayed and ends up killing or damaging any plant or tree it touches. And to date – four growing season and counting – Big Ag hasn't solved the problem. Still, that hasn't kept producers of dicamba swearing to EPA that this is the year it will all work out. So, EPA rolled out yet another new spraying label and requirements to mix dicamba with a volatility reduction agent. 

It wasn't long before environmentalists filed dicamba lawsuits against the EPA.

During Christmas week last year, the same group of folk who convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to vacate EPA dicamba registrations for Bayer AG, Corteva and BASF last June filed a new petition of review at the 9th Circuit.

The petitioners – the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North American – offered up many of the same arguments that won the day last June. Among the points of contention was that the defendants violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

In covering all its bases, the Center for Food Safety filed a separate complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona alleging the EPA violated FIFRA.

And if that isn't enough farmers – yeah farmers – are also opposing the new EPA dicamba registrations. The American Soybean Association and Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the EPA. The two trade groups are not jazzed about planting restrictions that are a part of the new dicamba registrations and are seeking declaratory and conjunctive relief.

So, to summarize, environmentalists hate the dicamba registrations. Farmers hate the dicamba registrations. A huge turnover at the top of EPA is underway due to last November's elections. And the clock is ticking on the start of the 2021 planting season. If that's not a whole bunch of uncertainty surrounding dicamba, I don't know what is. Time is of the essence and the feds and courts need to quickly provide guidance.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.