One in eight people worldwide do not get enough food daily. In Missouri, 16 percent of people are food insecure. Northern Missouri, however, is a hotbed for agricultural activity, producing the highest amount of goods by value in the state. This series explores agricultural production in Northeast Missouri and its relation to the food chain both locally and beyond the state’s borders.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but the weed control compound in use by farmers is under scrutiny by the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Reports of Dicamba drifting to nearby fields and harming crops that aren’t resistant to the compound have been making headlines recently, but the situation is complex and composed of multiple environmental, geographical and human factors, said Joe Kendrick, president of the Marion County Farm Bureau.

The MDA is seeking to study the effects of reported damages from Dicamba with help from the University of Missouri to determine the best path forward.

Dicamba-resistant seeds — sold under the Xtend brand name by Monsanto, which also makes weed control products containing Dicamba — aren’t affected by the product.

However, controversy over “Dicamba drift” and its perceived volatility characteristics at high temperatures remains a key topic, prompting the MDA to move forward with studies about Dicamba’s effects on nearby crops.

Scott Partridge, Vice President of Global Strategy with Monsanto, said that education and training are key factors for ensuring safe, successful use of Dicamba. He said officials investigated customer reports of Dicamba moving off-target: in 88 percent of the instances, growers and applicators self-reported that they didn’t fully follow the label stipulations, such as not having adequate buffer zones or a zone at all.

Partridge said customers reported more than 99 percent customer satisfaction with weed control, yields and on-target application. He said he has walked through fields from North Dakota to Louisiana. He noted “spectacular yields” throughout the Heartland. Partridge said soybeans showing damage have grown out in several fields, noting an expected record yield in Arkansas.

Kendrick stressed that the Missouri Farm Bureau stands by the MDA’s decision to allow limited use of Dicamba products, following the department’s announcement of a temporary stop sale, use or removal order for all Dicamba products on July 7. In August, the department issued a release that included restrictions pertaining application time periods, acceptable wind speed and temperatures. Farmers applying Dicamba were also required to call the department when they applied the product, he said.

Kendrick said his neighbor planted Dicamba-resistant soybeans, and he reached out to Kendrick before he planned to apply Dicamba. When Kendrick told him his soybeans were not Dicamba-resistant, his neighbor decided not to apply the compound. But Kendrick said that isn’t always the case.

The controversy and the highest concentration of reports of damage from Dicamba are centered in the Missouri Bootheel region and in northern Arkansas. While cotton growers with Dicamba-resistant seeds are seeing excellent success with the product, soybean farmers are reporting damage to crops that aren’t Dicamba-resistant.

Geographical factors (such as the wide expanses of flat land in the Bootheel compared to the hilly terrain found in much of Missouri), wind speed, and other traits help explain why reported damage is much more widespread in the southeast part of the state. Crop damage attributed to Dicamba use has caused rifts to form between neighbors.

Kendrick said Dicamba is the newest iteration of a compound known as 2,4-D. But he said there are issues surrounding how and when Dicamba is applied, noting he felt questions needed to be answered about Dicamba through forthcoming studies between the MDA and the University of Missouri.

Kendrick stressed that his opinion on Dicamba does not reflect the Missouri Farm Bureau’s stance, and the bureau is working with MDA to ensure that studies are complete for each report of crop damage. But Kendrick said Dicamba is volatile, citing instances where the chemical has moved as far as 15 miles once the temperature reaches the mid- to high-80 degree range. Older Dicamba products are not labeled for use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are subject to enforcement violations of up to $10,000 each time they’re used. Kendrick pointed out that the EPA granted a two-season approval for the new Dicamba products to see how the products work for farmers and to decide whether or not to move forward. But Kendrick said he felt that reports of crop damage and discrepancies on how each farmer follows label requirements and applies the product could halt future use of Dicamba.

“With the issues that have happened so far to this point, next year will probably be the last year it’s used, unless there are some things that can be done to basically control the issues they are having with it,” Kendrick said.

On Oct. 13, the MDA announced an agreement with agriculture product companies BASF, DuPont and Monsanto to collaboratively “minimize the potential for off-target movement of Dicamba.” The department said the efforts applied to new 2018 EPA label restrictions for BASF’s Engenia, DuPont’s Engenia and Monsanto’s XtendiMax products.

Partridge said the EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt approved Monsanto’s voluntary label marking Dicamba as a restricted use pesticide — meaning anyone applying the product must be trained under the direction of each state and mandatory records will be compiled. Partridge said Monsanto staff trained more than 50,000 applicators in 2016, and they are poised to expand their training efforts.

“We stand ready to participate in that training effort,” Partridge said.

Partridge said Monsanto staff is ready to work with industry representatives.

“We’re going to do everything we can to help the growers throughout the Heartland and in Missouri, here in our home state — have a spectacular experience, and 18 have produced the highest yielding soybean fields they’ve ever had,” Partridge said.

Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn agreed that collaborative measures for the 2018 season will bring positive results for Missouri farmers.

“This announcement gives farmers certainty moving forward as they make seed purchases for the next year,” Chinn said. “We will continue to work alongside farmers, researchers, industry partners and farm and commodity organizations to safeguard these important tools in the best interest of all Missouri agriculture.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com