Just as peak spraying season hit in 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals threw a monkey wrench into the plans of soybean growers, and those complications seem likely to persist into 2021.

The Ninth Circuit on June 3, vacated the registrations of three dicamba herbicides — Bayer's Xtendimax, BASF's Engenia and Corteva's FeXapan. That created some level of chaos for farmers who had expected to spray dicamba on their soybeans. Over the weeks that followed, some states maintained that farmers could spray existing supplies of dicamba.

The EPA on Oct. 27 announced it would approve new registrations for XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology and Engenia Herbicide and extended the registration for Tavium Plus VaporGrip Technology. The registrations will expire in 2025.

But with all the turmoil, it's not surprising that producers in the region are considering their options for soybean seed and contemplating using options that provide for more flexibility in what products get sprayed over the top. Enlist soybeans, already popular in the region in 2020, look likely to pick up even more market share, particularly in the eastern third of North Dakota and South Dakota where resistant weeds have emerged more aggressively.

Dicamba debacle

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Producers in June 2020 were thrown for a loop when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Environmental Protection Agency had incorrectly registered three dicamba products. Now, more farmers are looking at flexible options for weed control. (Trevor Peterson / Agweek)
Producers in June 2020 were thrown for a loop when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Environmental Protection Agency had incorrectly registered three dicamba products. Now, more farmers are looking at flexible options for weed control. (Trevor Peterson / Agweek)
Since dicamba was approved for postemergence use on soybeans, there have been issues with off-target drift affecting crops not resistant to the herbicide. In its findings in June, the Ninth Circuit found that EPA substantially understated or failed to consider the environmental and economic costs of dicamba use when it registered the products. And across the region, regulators continued to see complaints about damage from the herbicide in 2020.

North Dakota regulators received 11 formal dicamba complaints in 2020, up from five a year ago. Dicamba injuries in the state were overwhelmed by a “fantastic growing season,” where beans recovered quickly, said Andrew Thostenson, North Dakota State University Extension pesticide application specialist.

Thostenson believes there was dicamba damage that people didn’t turn in. He also thinks dicamba damage may have delayed the maturity of some beans, leading them to be more susceptible to damage from a strong early September frost.

“We haven’t had actual reports on that, so I’m just guessing,” Thostenson said.

Minnesota regulators received 124 complaints of “alleged” damage in 2020, said Allen Sommerfeld, senior communications officer for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. He said 69 requested a formal investigation. The investigations are ongoing, so details aren't open to the public.

There had been 22 complaints in Minnesota in 2019. Thostenson thinks Minnesota may have had more problems in 2020 because they “actually had weather conditions that allowed them to spray” while in 2019, they’d had so much excessive moisture that farmers weren’t able to get out and spray before the cutoff dates.

Regulators with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship count “growth regulator” allegations, based on injury symptoms. The state takes samples and analyzes residues; some come back inconclusive because they can’t find residues. In 2020, there were 215 “growth regulator” complaints, compared to 132 in 2019, said Bob Hartzler, an Iowa State University Extension weed scientist at Ames, Iowa.

Keely Coppess, communication director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said that of the 215 growth regulator reports, 57 had been confirmed to be over-the-top applications of dicamba on tolerant soybeans, and six were confirmed to be over-the-top applications of 2, 4-D on tolerant soybeans.

Hartzler said more Iowa farmers went to "straight dicamba" products in 2020 than in other years. He is “convinced” that spraying dicamba in corn caused more impacts than previous years. That's in part because cornfields with resistance problems were resprayed later in the season than is typical and because corn and soybeans got planted so quickly that their treatments overlapped in timing.

Brian Walsh, public affairs director for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said "it is not the practice" of the agencies to keep record of pesticide complaints by specific active ingredients. The state saw a "sharp decline in reported incidents related to dicamba" after requiring more training and using a statewide cutoff date for dicamba use, he said.

A popular pick

In the wake of the Environmental Protection Agency vacating registrations for several dicamba-based products in June 2020, Enlist E3 soybeans, which are resistant to 2,4-D choline, glufosinate and glyphostate, are likely to be popular. Even with dicamba products receiving new EPA registrations, many in the seed business think the flexibility of Enlist will win producers over. (Trevor Peterson / Agweek)
In the wake of the Environmental Protection Agency vacating registrations for several dicamba-based products in June 2020, Enlist E3 soybeans, which are resistant to 2,4-D choline, glufosinate and glyphostate, are likely to be popular. Even with dicamba products receiving new EPA registrations, many in the seed business think the flexibility of Enlist will win producers over. (Trevor Peterson / Agweek)
Rather than relying solely on dicamba products, many farmers appear to be looking at different technology, including Enlist soybeans, that allow for other products to be sprayed.

Enlist E3 soybeans are genetically modified to provide resistance to 2,4-D choline, glufosinate and glyphostate. Enlist varieties have grown in popularity for producers all around the country. Stuart Carlson, with Hoegemeyer Hybrids, said Enlist E3 has been a hot topic among growers in southeast South Dakota, northwest Iowa, and northeast Nebraska.

“Weed control was fantastic, and there is definitely a lot more flexibility spraying Enlist products,” he said.

“Enlist has been out for a couple years. It is a great herbicide tolerant program and we had a pretty high percentage of our customers last year begin transitioning to the Enlist platform,” said Carl Peterson, president of Peterson Farms Seed in Fargo, N.D.

What makes Enlist so appealing to many producers is its ability to withstand dicamba. If a producer's soybean field catches any dicamba drift, their soybean crop will not be zapped or altered.

“The issues with dicamba application and now with no label, has made it difficult for a lot of growers. In a lot of areas, the growers have tried a little bit of Enlist, and they have liked the varieties they have had. They like the overall weed control and it has been simpler to use,” Peterson said.

Enlist soybeans have become a viable and popular choice for producers, and some varieties will have tight supplies. (Jaryn Homiston / Agweek)
Enlist soybeans have become a viable and popular choice for producers, and some varieties will have tight supplies. (Jaryn Homiston / Agweek)
However, Enlist is not one-size-fits-all, and Peterson suggests farmers survey their fields and their present weeds before making their choice on the seed variety they choose.

“There's a lot of discussion about which trait platform has the best yields. The traits don't yield differently; it's actually the underlying genetics. The farmer needs the genetics that fit his field, and he also needs a trait package that fits the way he farms to control the weeds that he has. So, we need all of these platforms and all of these tools, but Enlist has been a really good platform for a lot of the weed species for farmers to control,” Peterson said.

With the huge demand, the question will be whether there are enough seeds to go around.

Steven Senyak, retail product agronomist for Brevant Seeds, covers northern South Dakota into southern North Dakota, recommends farmers who are interested in Enlist soybeans book early. Supplies of early maturing varieties are "still looking pretty good," but he expects them to continue tightening.

Carlson anticipates good seed supplies for slightly later maturing seeds used in his area.

“We’ve been gearing up for this. I don’t think I’ve seen a trait launch to this degree in my career. In my region, we had over 50% adoption to Enlist soybeans, which is huge, and I know we have geared up to supply much larger quantities,” Carlson said.

Pioneer field agronomist Larry Osborne said Enlist E3 was most effective for farmers in the eastern Dakotas, where farmers have resistant weeds like mare's tail and water hemp. Farther west in South Dakota where kochia is more of an issue, Osborne says many farmers will be sticking with the Xtend system, which allows use of either glyphosate or dicamba.

XtendFlex soybeans, which are genetically modified to be tolerant to glyphosate, dicamba and glufosinate, are likely to be popular, too.

“We're going to have a pretty decent supply of XtendFlex soybean varieties to get going on a first round launch. Overall in the United States, it's probably going to be approaching 60% of what we’re selling now in the Xtend lineup. The early varieties always kind of lag behind in the program, but we’re hoping in the next year or two we’ll keep adding some new genetics there too,” said Derek Crompton, Channel technical agronomist.

Crompton is pleased with the yield performance they have seen when conducting trials on XtendFlex soybeans, even in tough environments for Iron Deficiency Chlorosis.

While companies expect XtendFlex to be a popular item for producers, they still anticipate Enlist varieties to be flying off their shelves.

Peterson Farms Seed anticipates a big demand for Enlist varieties in the 2021 planting season. (Jaryn Homiston / Agweek)
Peterson Farms Seed anticipates a big demand for Enlist varieties in the 2021 planting season. (Jaryn Homiston / Agweek)
“There is no question that Enlist is going to take a very significant chunk of the acres across this region in 2021. That is absolutely going to happen. Demand has been strong. And with the brand new varieties, there's never enough, because you can't physically ramp up supply that much. We have a very good supply. We anticipated a strong move towards Enlist and of course we produced to meet that demand,” Peterson said.