A coalition within the U.S. specialty crop industry has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) for dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant crops, saying more study of the technologies is needed.

Crops containing the technologies, which include Dow AgroSciences 2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybeans and Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant soybeans, are expected on the market within a few years.

Save Our Crops Coalition was formed this year to bring attention to specialty crop concerns over potential drift and volatility involving the herbicide-resistant technologies, its website states.

In a recent conference call, Steve Smith, with Red Gold, an Indiana-based food processor, said 2,4-D- and dicamba-tolerant crops “would facilitate and allow the highly expanded use of certain chemistries that have a historic basis of moving off target from where they are applied. Our mission is to protect our crops from off-target movement from either direct drift or volatilization.”

Gary Phelps, co-owner of a Kentucky tree farm, said that in 2007, his farm sustained damage from an off-target 2,4-D application from an adjoining grain farmer. “My purpose in joining this coalition is to try and insure that other specialty crop growers do not have to endure the type of damage we endured.”

Jody Herr, a vegetable farmer from northwest Indiana, added, “We have experienced off-target drift with these types of chemistries in the past, most recently in 2009.”

Mike Hofer, senior marketing manager, BASF, said the company has significantly reduced volatility and drift in its dicamba brands, Status and Clarity.

The company is developing a new dicamba product, Engenia, specifically for dicamba-tolerant cropping system. It is expected to be introduced in 2014.

Hofer said BASF is developing best management practices (BMPs) “to support the long-term success and efficacy of dicamba in the dicamba-tolerant soybean system. These will include applicator and grower training initiatives to improve weed control, weed management and optimize application techniques.

“The proposed stewardship of the dicamba system includes a combination of label instructions, recommendations and BMPs and will provide comprehensive instructions for maximizing on-target application, including specifications for nozzle type and/or droplet size, weather conditions, application methods and sprayer clean out.

“These BMPs have been developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including row and specialty crop growers, processors, applicators, regulators and university researchers. Dicamba has been widely used over the years, effectively and safely when used according to label. We trust that growers will continue to be able to manage such tools in their toolbox.”

The SOCC’s Smith says the benefits of improvements in volatility and drift will be offset by labels which allow applications in 15-mile per hour winds and by grower use of generic versions of the products.

Smith, who is chairman of the SOCC, said to specify actual wind speeds “will allow producers to have a legal cover so to speak,” if there is drift damage. “I don’t believe there are any formulations at all that can make a low drift application in those kinds of winds.”

Smith said generic formulations of the two herbicides are still “highly volatile” and would be preferred by farmers because they cost less. “So that won’t change the outcome.”

Smith said dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant crops “need more study. There are likely very negative effects to surrounding property and crops with the use of these. We don’t think that USDA or EPA has taken a thorough look at them.”

Hofer said Clarity “has one of the best volatility profiles in the herbicide market and offers a high level of safety to nearby crops.”

Hofer added that “following label directions and proper stewardship guidelines will minimize the possibility of off-site movement.”

A SOCC press release said the coalition “is not opposed to genetic modification, however it does seek a sensible and effective review of genetically modified crops with harmful environmental impacts. USDA has thus far chosen to consider genetically modified crops in a piecemeal fashion, one crop at a time.”

“It’s important to remember that the need to find new ways to manage weeds is urgent and becoming more complex,” Hofer said. “Resistant weeds threaten crop yield potential, valuable input investments, land values and the productivity of growers across the United States.

“What’s important in addition to the formulation is the use of this or any chemistry is that years of research have produced application methods and equipment that can minimize chances of spray drift, and such precautions are part of every-day pesticide use.”

For more information on the SOCC, see http://www.saveourcrops.org.