Iowa ag secretary appeals to EPA after federal court strips dicamba herbicide registrations

A farmer works a crop field near Slater, Iowa. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa farmers will be able to use dicamba herbicides that were stripped of their federal registrations by an appeals court while the state agriculture secretary awaits instructions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

But the future of the popular herbicides is murky.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last week vacated product registrations for several dicamba herbicides, which have been targeted as dangerous by national environmental groups.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler asking for guidance after the ruling. Naig indicated the herbicides are critical in the farm belt, especially against widespread water hemp, which is resistant to other chemicals.  

States are allowed to register the products on their own and many farm states plan to continue to allow dicamba unless they are blocked, Successful Farming reported

Naig said he wants to make sure retailers and farmers can apply current stocks of the herbicides. 

“We are requesting that the EPA provides guidance about what this ruling means for producers in Iowa, and presents options to allow retailers and farmers to apply existing stocks during the 2020 growing season,” Naig wrote.

“This ruling is creating uncertainty at a time when farmers are already heading into the fields to treat emerging crops and it leaves them without effective weed management tools,” he added.

Wheeler, who has faced criticism for regulatory rollbacks and industry-friendly regulations issued during the pandemic, focused a statement late Friday on the damage to the agriculture industry.

EPA’s stated mission is to “protect human health and the environment.”

“We are disappointed with the decision,” Wheeler said. “The 2020 growing season is well underway and this creates undue burden for our first conservationists — farmers.” 

Wheeler said EPA has been “overwhelmed with letters and calls from farmers nationwide since the court issued its opinion, and these testimonies cite the devastation of this decision on their crops and the threat to America’s food supply.

“The court itself noted in this order that it will place a great hardship on America’s farmers,” Wheeler wrote. “This ruling implicates millions of acres of crops, millions of dollars already spent by farmers, and the food and fiber Americans across the country rely on to feed their families.

Wheeler said EPA is assessing “all avenues” to mitigate the impact of the court’s decision on farmers. 

The Environmental Working Group, a national nonprofit, tracks dicamba in public water supplies. The group says the chemicals can cause nervous system and reproductive damage and can inhibit development in children. 

The herbicides, sold by Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agriscience, are particularly important in the soybean and cotton industries, because the chemical can be sprayed over the top of resistant crops.

The Ninth Circuit ruled in a case brought by the National Family Farming Coalition that EPA had ignored both threats to the public and possible anti-competition factors in registering the chemicals, reported Kristine Tidgren of Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation.

The National Corn Growers Association asked EPA to appeal the ruling stripping registrations for Xtendimax, FeXapan, and Engenia. 

“NCGA urges the EPA to immediately appeal this ruling and obtain a stay of this overreaching court order,” the association said in a statement. “This decision to remove a weed control option, especially in the middle of the season, adds yet another challenge to an already difficult time and sets a concerning precedent.”