NCC Comments on Dicamba Label Approval

The NCC, on May 26, '16, submitted comments on EPA’s notice, “Dicamba: New Use on Herbicide-Tolerant Cotton and Soybeans.”

Published: May 27, 2016
Updated: May 27, 2016

May 26, 2016

Ms. Susan Lewis, Director
Registration Division
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20460

Regarding Docket No. EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0187 - Dicamba: New Use on Herbicide-Tolerant Cotton and Soybeans

Dear Ms. Lewis:

The National Cotton Council (NCC) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) notice “Dicamba: New Use on Herbicide-Tolerant Cotton and Soybeans.”  The NCC fully supports the registration of Monsanto’s dicamba formulations for use on USDA deregulated dicamba-tolerant cotton.  The NCC has reviewed the supplemental labeling for use on Bollgard II® Xtendflex Cotton, and urges EPA to reconsider and/or clarify the following: 1) No other herbicide tank mix restriction; 2) the exclusion of Wilson County, TN, and Palm Beach County, FL; 3) the EPA approved adjuvants list; 4) the statement concerning the management of weeds in and around the field; 5) application equipment and techniques that should restrict aerial application for “Cotton” [now stated “Soybeans”] on page 6; 6) restrictions regarding only one legal application nozzle; 7) buffer from all field edges; and 8) sensitive crop registries requirements.

The NCC is the central organization of the United States cotton industry.  Its members include producers, ginners, cottonseed processors and merchandizers, merchants, cooperatives, warehousers and textile manufacturers.  A majority of the industry is concentrated in 17 cotton-producing states stretching from Virginia to California. The NCC represents producers who cultivate between 10 and 14 million acres of cotton.  Annual cotton production, averaging approximately 16 to 20 million 480-lb bales, is valued at more than $5 billion at the farm gate.  The downstream manufacturers of cotton apparel and home furnishings are located in virtually every state. Farms and businesses directly involved in the production, distribution and processing of cotton employ more than 230,000 workers and produce direct business revenue of more than $27 billion.  Accounting for the ripple effect of cotton through the broader economy, direct and indirect employment surpasses 420,000 workers with economic activity well in excess of $120 billion. In addition to the cotton fiber, cottonseed products are used for livestock feed, and cottonseed oil is used as an ingredient in food products as well as being a premium cooking oil.

Effective weed management is one of many critical components of successful cotton production. Weeds reduce cotton yields by an average of 30% by competing with the crop for space, sunlight, nutrients, and moisture; they may release toxic compounds and also provide shelter and food for insect pests and plant pathogens. Weeds also interfere with harvesting of cotton and reduce lint quality by increasing trash content and staining lint fiber.
Cotton requires more intense weed management than either corn or soybeans. Being a semi-tropical plant, cotton is especially sensitive to weed competition because it grows relatively slowly in the early developmental stages and it takes eight weeks or more after germination to reach full ground cover.

No Herbicide Tank Mix Restriction
U.S. cotton producers need additional tools to manage weed populations, including populations of weed species that have evolved resistance to the various herbicides currently available.  Various weed species have evolved resistance to 21 of the 25 known herbicide sites of action and to 148 different herbicides. Herbicide resistant weeds have been reported in 64 crops in 61 countries (International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, The leading recommendation for combating weed resistance is to combine multiple modes of action.  When single mode of action pesticides are solely used to manage weeds, insect pests, or diseases, those pests will eventually develop resistance.  Additionally, EPA notes on page 5 of the notice, “Use a broad spectrum soil-applied herbicide with other modes of action as a foundation in a weed control program.” For these reasons, the NCC is concerned by the tank mix restriction on the draft label for M1691 and urges EPA to reconsider that restriction. The restriction limits effective weed management strategies and forces repeated trips across a field in order to accomplish what should be accomplished in one trip.  The EPA should recognize its role in proposing regulations that contradict its claims of supporting resistance management and reducing emissions.

Exclusion of Wilson County, TN and Palm Beach County, FL
The NCC recognizes the challenges EPA faces in attempting to comply with requirements of the Endangered Species Act to achieve a “no effect” determination.  We support a process that avoids consultation with the Agencies for determination of endangered species impact.  However, we are concerned with the precedent that may be established in excluding an entire county to achieve that determination. Certainly county level determinations are more palatable than State level determinations, as used in an earlier registration review.  But a more refined process needs to be developed. Neither Wilson County, TN nor Palm Beach County, FL are major cotton producing counties. However, we have great concern going forward if a more refined process cannot be developed to establish a “no effect” determination.  Simply excluding areas of use on a county by county basis transfers EPA’s administrative burden to, in cases such as this, a financial burden for agricultural producers that in many instances is unwarranted.  Therefore, we urge EPA and the registrant to develop more refined parameters for establishing “no effect” determinations regarding endangered species.

EPA approved adjuvants
Although EPA stipulated on March 31, 2016, a proposed label with tank-mixing instructions “DO NOT TANK MIX ANY OTHER HERBICIDE WITH M1691 HERBICIDE,” EPA is allowing the tank-mix use of adjuvants “that have been tested and found by EPA not to have an unreasonable effect on the spray drift properties of M1691 Herbicide”.  EPA proposes to require users to check “the list of EPA approved adjuvants” no more than 7 days before applying.  EPA proposes to approve the adjuvant but stipulates that users must check with manufacturers to determine if the approved adjuvants will work effectively with the EPA approved nozzle, spray pressure, and the desired spray solution.

The NCC believes EPA should recognize that producers often make planning preparations and purchases prior to the beginning of the planting season.  EPA’s restrictions do not seem justifiable for adjuvants, in particular the “no more than 7 day” restriction. The NCC encourages EPA approval of all registered adjuvants that pass compatibility mixture testing by users.  EPA’s actions regarding an “approved list” and “no more than 7 day” add confusion and regulatory burdens to an already intense, time-constrained production operation.

Manage weeds in and around fields
The NCC appreciates EPA’s section acknowledging Weed Resistance Management practices, and urges EPA to refrain from requirements that mandate the opposite (i.e. leaving large buffers or unsprayed areas, prohibiting tank-mixing with other herbicides, adding time-consuming regulations that allow weeds more growth opportunity).  The NCC notes in particular EPA’s bullet: “Manage weeds in and around fields, during and after harvest to reduce weed seed production.”  The NCC applauds the inclusion of this recognized academic weed management principle, and urges EPA to recognize that this valid recommendation is contrary to encouraging pollinator habitat around agricultural fields.  Producers today are overwhelmed by federal “goals” - within and across agencies – that contain opposing actions.  The NCC urges EPA and all federal agencies to recognize the complexity of the agro-ecosystem and avoid mandates/regulations with opposing actions.

Aerial application restriction
The NCC believes the M1691 supplemental label dated March 31, 2016, contains an error on page 6 under “APPLICATION EQUIPMENT AND TECHNIQUES:”  The NCC believes the intent was to restrict aerial application to BollgardII®Xtendflex™ Cotton, but the label states “Roundup Ready 2 Xtend™ Soybean.”  Please clarify if this was intended.

One legal nozzle
The NCC is concerned that EPA has specified only one spray nozzle will be allowed for use of this product.  We urge EPA to recognize that this restriction provides the manufacturer with a monopoly for this market.  EPA should encourage open markets and it seems highly unlikely that no other spray nozzle meets the acceptable criteria.

Additionally, the NCC urges EPA to clarify confusing language preceding the nozzle type.  For example, under spray pressure EPA uses the wording “may allow the use of larger nozzle orifices,” yet EPA has already restricted use to one nozzle.  Similarly, under spray boom height, EPA uses wording of “based on nozzle selection.”  If there is only one approved nozzle, why confuse the label by implying there is a selection.

Buffer from all field edges
The NCC urges EPA to refrain from restrictions that place buffers on all sides of a field.  We urge EPA to recognize the massive loss of production area that would result from such precedent, not to mention the encouragement of weeds throughout the buffer areas.  The NCC is concerned about EPA’s deviation from the buffer based on wind direction.  A wind direction buffer provides all the protective benefits and allows opportunity to maintain the buffer area once wind direction shifts.  The wind direction buffer meets the needs for protection of sensitive areas and meets the needs of weed resistance management.  The NCC urges EPA to refer back to Weed Resistance management practices.

If EPA is encouraging a different herbicide to be mixed and applied to these massive buffers on all sides of the field, it would seem EPA has lost touch with agricultural practices.  For example, cotton is often planted on raised or “hipped” beds in order to allow furrow irrigation and/or proper drainage with minimum soil loss.  Trips across the field afterwards is based on the direction of the hipped rows.  As such, the beginning and ends of the rows included in the buffer could only receive a different treatment by traveling over the entire field.

Similarly, the planting operation is arguably the most intense operation of the year.  Fields must be prepped, rendered weed free, and with adequate moisture but not excessive moisture.  The high up-front cost of seed today makes the planting operation arguably the most critical and time sensitive operation.  Row crop producers survive today’s low commodity prices by operating on economies of scale, meaning they have to be able to manage many acres in order to stay in business.  In the planting operation, weed management is critical because no plant canopy has been established to shade and discourage weed growth.  A few unexpected rain events and unexpected equipment repairs quickly disrupt the operation and delay timing of operation activities.  Producers struggle against these time constraints annually, but occasionally lose to nature’s rain or equipment malfunctions that allow weeds to thrive before timely application of herbicides are possible.

The proposed buffer zone would prohibit large acreage from being eligible for weed control with this product.  For example, a 100 acre field would require 20 acres (20% of the field) of untreated area from the field edge in order to comply with the label.  A 40 acre field would require 13 acres (33% of the field) and a 20 acre field would require 9 acres (47% of the field).  The NCC urges EPA to recognize the impracticality of such untreated areas and to realize the impact would be greater for producers with multiple small fields, particularly disadvantaging those producers.

The buffer from all field edges seems to imply that EPA believes producers should treat the middle of the field and come back later with an alternate product for weed control in the buffer area.  EPA noted “Manage weeds in and around fields…”.  The proposed restriction is excessive, and without justification.  The proposed restriction encourages failure to adequately control weeds in the buffer resulting in forced treatment of weeds with excessive height.  The March 24, 2016 refined Endangered Species Assessment reported by the Environmental Fate and Effects Division (EFED), considering the wind buffer mitigation rather than all sides buffer, stated “effects are expected only within the confines of the treated fields and so the action area is limited to the dicamba DGA treated field.”  NCC strongly urges EPA to return to the wind-direction buffer concept.

Sensitive crop registries
On page 8 under Non-target Susceptible Plants, EPA included a requirement that applicators must survey and ensure they are aware of sensitive crop proximity and must “also consult sensitive crop registries for locating sensitive crops where available.”  The NCC expresses concern that the sensitive crop registry is vague and open to unintended interpretations.  The NCC urges EPA to clarify the official entity (State Lead Agency, University Extension) that qualifies as such a registry site that is sufficiently reliable that EPA grants legal merit to the site’s information.

Cotton producers need a diverse arsenal of herbicides with different modes of action to combat currently resistant weeds and to prevent or delay new resistances development. The dicamba and glufosinate traits stacked with glyphosate tolerance will provide producers with a cotton product that has tolerance to three herbicides with three different modes of action. These combined traits and added ability to spray dicamba over the top of cotton will provide producers with more flexibility in application and mode of action options for effective and sustainable control of weeds, including those that have developed resistance to glyphosate and other herbicides. Producers need to be able to tank mix these products to ensure cost effective and timely applications that reduce associated impact on the environment from multiple applications.  Workable buffer restrictions also are needed to ensure the competitiveness of all U.S. cotton producers, regardless of size and as part of maintaining wildlife habitats in rural America.

Again, the NCC urges EPA to register this dicamba formulation, thus enabling producers to take full advantage of deregulated dicamba and glufosinate-tolerant cotton varieties without delay.

Respectfully submitted,

Reece Langley
VP – Washington Operations