I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

Shawn P. Conley, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jeremy Ross, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

For many of us in agriculture, 2017 was a year we would like to quickly forget. Unpredictable weather, low crop prices and last, but certainly not least, many of us were dealing with the D-word, and I don’t mean Dallas. Off-target movement of synthetic auxin herbicides pitted neighbor against neighbor, farmers against state boards and industry against academia. The caustic environment in agriculture in 2017 made the politics in Washington D.C. look like Sesame Street!

On October 30th 2017 Dr. Kevin Bradley published A Final Report on Dicamba-injured Soybean Acres where he listed an official count of 2,708 reported cases of dicamba-related investigations and an estimated 3.6 million acres of dicamba injured soybean. The efforts of Dr. Bradley as well as many other Extension Weed Scientists led to wholesale changes in herbicide labels and mandatory training prior to the 2018 growing season. The collective hope was to keep these herbicides on-site, where we put them!

This spring, Mother Nature gave many growers across the Midwest small windows to plant soybean in April and early May. Planters got ahead of spray rigs, pre-emergent herbicides didn’t get out and boom, we are behind the 8-ball for weed control options. Those early planted soybean acres then decided to bloom in June which put applicators and farmers against the clock to get their post emergence herbicides on according to label. In the Midwest, it has rained for the past week and applicators have been challenged again to get into the field.  Later planted soybeans will start to bloom over the next week and again put applicators and farmers running against the clock to get their post emergent herbicides on consistent with label directions.  If dicamba was applied post emergence, we can simply mark our calendar forward 14-21 days, cross our fingers and hope that the label changes, applicator training, and more recognition of the potential problems worked and we don’t see any off-site injury.

Let’s fast forward to now. The first official unoffical report of crop damage due to dicamba injury was reported by Dr.  Bradley today “Dicamba Injured Crops and Plants Becoming More Evident: June 15th Update”. We are also starting to see images and early reports of dicamba injury coming from the Mid-South and lower mid-western states. It would be irresponsible to make any wide sweeping claims of pending doom; however, if it does show up it would be even more irresponsible to not report it.

I have been told by many colleagues in both academia and industry that farmers across the country are gun shy to report any damage this season. The three main reasons given by growers are:

  1. I am in a drought stricken area and if I report any damage I will be ineligible for crop insurance!
  2. This is my neighbor, we are friends and I don’t want the government involved. We can handle this between us.
  3. We need this technology and I don’t want to lose it!

As a farm kid myself, I fully understand all of the reasons mentioned above. However, we must all be cognizant that just because we don’t report a problem doesn’t make it go away. There are far too many recent examples of institutional non-reporting that have come back to severely damage the reputation of the non-reporting entity (MSU, Face Book, #MeToo, etc.). Our institution is agriculture! We battle misinformation on GMO’s, we battle misinformation on animal husbandry, and we constantly battle educating the other 99% on what we do. If 2018 turns out like 2017 we do not want to stick our heads in the sand and pretend a problem does not exit. If 2018 turns out to have minimal issues then FANTASTIC! Industry and academia should be lauded for their joint accomplishments. The best way to support agriculture and freedom to operate is through honesty and accurate self-reporting.