Robb Fraley and Mike Wilson at Farm Progress Show 2017
Monsanto chief scientist Robb Fraley (l) discusses dicamba drift concerns with Farm Progress editor Mike Wilson.

Monsanto exec defends dicamba-resistant seed

Despite crop damage concerns, company expects sales of dicamba-resistant seed to double in 2018.

Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley defended the company’s dicamba-based Xtend soybean system, despite numerous complaints of dicamba drift damage from growers and applicators this growing season.

In an exclusive interview at this year’s Farm Progress Show, Fraley was asked if the company had released the product too soon, given reports of unexpected drift damage and cupped soybean plants that could lead to yield loss.

“Absolutely not,” he replied. “We licensed dicamba in 2005 from University of Nebraska and spent 12 years developing the traits in soybeans and cotton, and low volatility formulations. We tested it in thousands of plots. The problems we are seeing are easily addressable.

“The vast majority of soybean and cotton farmers have had a terrific experience,” he added. “It was launched on 25 million acres and I’m getting reports from farmers saying they are the cleanest fields ever. We expect Xtend acres to double in 2018.”

Fraley blamed the media for missing the real story – that upwards of 99% of farmers have had positive experiences with dicamba-tolerant seed.

“Illinois planted a record 10 million acres of soybeans. If the average field is 40 acres that’s roughly 250,000 fields, but so far we’ve only had inquiries on about 400 fields,” he said.

Even so, the company is following up on about 1,000 complaints nationwide and “taken every one of those inquiries seriously,” he said. “Those inquiries have been self-reported by farmers and applicators. Generally the problems have been that they did not use the proper buffer, did not use proper nozzles or did not set the sprayer to the right height.”

As a result, the company is offering free nozzles and training to avoid future problems. The company will hold an academic summit in late September so that farmers and applicators can improve applications for next year.

Dicamba is not new

Dicamba was first commercialized 50 years ago. According to University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager, the widespread adoption of glyphosate-resistant corn hybrids in Illinois during the first decade of the 21st century was accompanied by a decrease in dicamba use in corn, resulting in relatively few complaints of soybean exposure during the last 10 years.

“With more dicamba currently being applied, it’s not surprising the instances of soybean exposure have increased,” says Hager. “Whether applied in corn or dicamba-resistant soybean, the fact remains that few dicot species in the Illinois landscape are more sensitive to dicamba than soybean.”

The launch of the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System was the largest biotech rollout in company history. Monsanto now expects that, together with its partners, it will have supply for up to half of the U.S. soybean market next year, on the way to a market opportunity of 200 million to 250 million acres globally.

According to Reuters, an Arkansas task force has advised the state to ban spraying of agricultural herbicides containing dicamba after April 15 next year. If adopted, the recommendation would prevent most Arkansas farmers from spraying dicamba weed killers on growing soybeans.

Arkansas previously blocked Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide, XtendiMax with VaporGrip, because the company did not provide testing data that state officials wanted. The state approved BASF’s herbicide. Thirty-three other states approved both products.

Even so, Fraley remained optimistic.

“Growers have been asking for this technology for years, and we’re excited to be able to provide it again in 2018,” said Fraley.

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