Matt Hughes saved the best — or at least the most interesting — for last during his soybean planting this year.
With the month of May nearing a close and most of his bean crop in the ground, the Shirley, Illinois, farmer loaded Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans into his planter for the first time. He is one of a number of select growers across the country given the opportunity to plant dicamba-tolerant soybeans this year. Whether he actually gets to use dicamba over the top of those beans this season remains a question.
While farmers have lobbied for new tools to fight herbicide-resistant weeds, the latest technology offerings from seed companies are mired in a maze of regulatory bottlenecks. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton traits received the green light for planting in the U.S. earlier this year, but herbicides to use with the new trait have yet to receive EPA approvals. To further complicate matters, the Monsanto soybean trait lacks vital global import approvals.
Dow AgroScience received the necessary approvals (both trait and herbicide) to launch its Enlist Weed Control System this spring in corn and soybeans, but lacked important global approvals for the 2,4-D-tolerant trait. In an effort to avoid export market disruptions, the company opted to roll the technology out under tightly controlled scenarios designed to keep the harvest out of the grain stream.
Still, both companies appear to be gearing up to launch their new traits in 2016. This year, Monsanto’s nearly 100 farmers participating in their Ground Breakers soybean program — an experience that typically allows an early peek at products not fully commercialized — have been folded into the seed-production program. All Xtend soybean seed harvested this year will be used for seed for the 2016 planting season. Growers planting Enlist soybeans are also doing it only as a seed-increase program.
PLANTING UNDER SUPERVISION
Other companies are also planning to use the new technology. Hughes is growing his Xtend soybeans for DuPont Pioneer, which licensed RR2 Xtend genetics from Monsanto in a March 2013 tech agreement. (In January of this year, Pioneer formally ended its research and development agreements with Dow’s Enlist crops.)
He planted 500 acres of soybeans containing the Xtend trait under the watchful eye of a Pioneer agronomist. Long before spring even arrived, Pioneer inspectors had worked with farmers to plot out exactly where Xtend acres would be planted, said Andre Trepanier, Pioneer’s senior soybean marketing manager. Both Monsanto and Pioneer send company inspectors to Xtend fields to oversee planting, make sure planters and trucks are properly cleaned out and ensure that the required field buffers are obeyed, company representatives told DTN.
Hughes’ Xtend acres were carefully selected to obey a 15-foot buffer zone between any neighboring commercial soybean acres, to prevent accidental contamination.
As planting time neared, he watched the weather, planted his non-Xtend beans, and constantly updated Pioneer’s field inspectors on his planting plans and timing.
“They really bent over backwards to make sure we could run when we needed to run and plant in a timely fashion,” he said. “There were a lot of late-night texts.”
Hughes’ beans are now emerging, despite some weather setbacks. Recent heavy rainfalls saturated some fields, and a series of weather swings between hot and cold conditions left some early-planted beans sitting in cold water.
As he keeps an eye on those soggy seedlings, the farm visits will continue. Both Monsanto and Pioneer inspectors check fields to ensure that their growers’ emerging Xtend crops remain carefully buffered. “If a neighbor changes his plans, for example, and plants beans next to yours where you expected corn, you might have to destroy some beans to put the buffer back in place,” Hughes explained.
At the end of the growing season, Hughes will face a final field inspection, equipment and combine cleanout checks during harvest, and another inspection to ensure no volunteers escaped. The stewardship extends even into another growing season, as Hughes has agreed to only plant corn in 2016 where his Xtend beans grew this year.
To make the extra hurdles worth his time, he will receive a premium for growing the Xtend soybeans.
Farmers who plant Enlist soybeans face similarly rigorous procedures. However, they will also have a chance to test out the technology’s long-awaited promise: over-the-top application of Enlist Duo, a proprietary combination of 2,4-D Choline and glyphosate, designed to help control the growing problem of glyphosate-resistant weeds.
That herbicide option is not as clear for Xtend growers. When Hughes mapped out his Xtend acres this winter, he picked fields with a history of glyphosate-resistant waterhemp, eager to try out the new dicamba formulation on these troublesome weeds.
However, it appears only select soybean seed growers will be able to apply dicamba this season. Some dicamba products, such as Clarity, have been granted a supplemental label from the EPA to be used over the top of Xtend crops being grown for seed production, said Pioneer’s Trepanier. “For the most part, we have asked our growers to not spray dicamba over the top of their RR2 Xtend seed production,” he said.
“That’s a disappointment — not being able to spray the dicamba,” Hughes admitted. “We will have to use our normal Roundup program, and add some Flex Star to help control those resistant weeds.”
John Combest, Monsanto crop production communication manager, said Monsanto’s Xtend soybean Ground Breakers seed growers will have the option of using dicamba. The formulation to be used over RR2 Xtend soybeans is a DGA (diglycolamine) dicamba, which is the same salt as Clarity (as opposed to DMA, which is the salt in Banvel and older formulations.) “The rest of the seed-production growers will NOT be using dicamba this year. We’re taking that approach in our seed-production acres to align with what we’re doing in cotton; i.e. no dicamba over the top in 2015,” Combest added.
Combest said Monsanto decided to go to market with dicamba-tolerant cotton this spring to give growers a chance to see there’s no yield lag associated with the trait and experience the new genetics. Around 2,500 cotton farmers in 14 Southern states planted the company’s new Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton seeds across 500,000 acres, Monsanto communications manager Ben Eberle told DTN.
Cotton growers will be limited to the use of glyphosate and glufosinate (Liberty) for postemergence control. “The use of dicamba on Bollgard II XtendFlex is an off-label application [for 2015] and is subject to the same penalties as off-label applications of other chemistries,” Combest said.