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Commentary: The Dicamba Dilemma

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According to Moore’s Law, computer processing speed doubles every 18 months.  This is just one aspect of technological advancement that is said to be moving at an exponential rate. The challenge is that we humans don’t move at that rate and, thus, have a difficult time managing that rate of change in our everyday lives. Just ask Sister Margaret Ann, principal of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami, who, when faced with clearing trees after Hurricane Irma, found herself at a loss on how to start and use a chain saw.  So, she did what millions of people do every day, she Googled it.

Farmers are being told to do something similar when it comes to using the latest agricultural production technology. Not only are producers required to read the label on crop protection products, but they must also visit a web site for any updates or new restrictions.  This is especially true with the new dicamba technology which requires specific spaying protocols and weather conditions. There are now even mobile apps that a grower can use to check weather conditions in a certain field using his mobile phone. Failure to observe these procedures can have serious consequences. Several states have already limited or banned the use of dicamba products, and the EPA is considering new restrictions for 2018.

Yet, as farmers drive combines across their soybean fields this fall, the need for technology to control resistant weeds will be quite evident. Therein lies the dilemma. Dicamba is technology that is complicated to manage, but is economically beneficial when it comes to maximizing production. In the end, I believe it will be the benefit that will overcome the steep learning curve.

The real challenge will be if government regulators and environmental activists will allow this to happen. Two years of problems in certain areas have shown that more education and experience on the part of growers, applicators, and the manufacturers are needed.  An outright ban on this technology, that some are advocating, would be an unfortunate overreaction.

It has been my observation that the best teachers of farmers are other farmers. We have seen this with the adoption of no-till technology and the use of cover crops. This could also be the approach for mastering the dicamba technology. Today’s communications technology can provide great resources for sharing knowledge and experience. This kind of exchange of information can only happen if growers are not worried about being hit with a lawsuit or a penalty for violating a regulation.

Sister Margaret Ann discovered this when news of her chain saw education become public. “Some people have sent me videos on how to use a chain saw because apparently I wasn’t using it correctly or as safe as I should’ve been, so I’m learning, too,” she told The Associated Press. Many people posted warnings online that the nun’s loose habit could get caught in the saw. A video of the chain saw wielding nun went viral on social media. She also said she was glad the video gave the public a different view of nuns. Hopefully, the way farmers learn to responsibly manage dicamba to increase food production while slowing the spread of weed resistance will show the public just how environmentally friendly farmers are.

By Gary Truitt