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SC farmers lose use of important herbicides early in the season

palmer amaranth

Palmer amaranth, also known as Palmer pigweed — photo courtesy Clemson University

One of the most widespread and effective herbicides in South Carolina farmers’ arsenal has been barred from sale early in the growing season.

Officials with the Department of Pesticide Regulation, a state regulatory agency based at Clemson University, South Carolina, issued a statement this week on the effect a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and subsequent U.S. Environment Protection Agency orders will have on farmers who grow more than 500,000 acres of cotton and soybeans in the Palmetto State.

The change immediately prohibits sale and distribution of three prevalent dicamba-based herbicides and will prevent their use entirely by the end of July.

The affected pesticides are:

■ XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology (manufactured by Bayer, EPA Reg. No. 524-6 17)

■ Engenia (BASF, EPA Reg. No. 7969-345)

■ FeXapan (Corteva, EPA Reg. No. 352-9 13)

“Pesticide dealers in South Carolina who have existing stock of these products should stop all sales immediately and contact their dealer representative to facilitate a return to the registrant or other legal disposal,” the statement read.

“The EPA final cancellation order allows for commercial and private applicators who have possession of existing stock of these products to lawfully use them until Friday, July 31, 2020. After this date no legal uses of these products will be permitted and existing stock must be disposed of in a legal manner.”

in-field variability and cotton yields

Photos courtesy Clemson Public Service and Agriculture

Steve Cole, director of Clemson’s Regulatory Services unit, said licensed applicators who have stocks of the herbicides on hand and aren’t able to use them before the July 31 deadline should contact their dealers and arrange to have them returned to the registrants through their representatives.

‘Very big and difficult change’

A registered herbicide for more than 50 years, dicamba is a common chemical used to control a broad array of crop-choking weeds. It is one of the few herbicides proven to be effective against pigweed, or Palmer amaranth, which can be devastating to cotton and soybean crops.

“A preponderance of cotton and soybean varieties planted in South Carolina are designed to be resistant to dicamba, so this is a very big and difficult change for producers,” Cole said. “The fact that it comes right in the middle of the planting and growing season is like a double whammy. They’ve already got expensive seed in the ground relying on a herbicide that had been previously approved by the EPA but taken away after the court decision.”

Stakes are high. South Carolina farmers planted 335,000 acres of soybeans and 300,000 acres of cotton last year, more than any crop other than corn, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The case that led to the Ninth Circuit ruling vacating the three herbicide registrations was filed in 2017 and re-filed and expanded last year. It argued that EPA violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, when approving the registration.

“It turned out to be the worst possible timing for agriculture, especially in the Southeast,” said Mike Weyman, Regulatory Services deputy director. “It’s not just the manufacturers and distributers but the farmers. The growing season won’t wait for them to line up a replacement. There are no winners here.”

Clemson University contributed this article.