In Southwest Oklahoma, cotton is a prominent and ever-growing crop, as are the prices of cotton seed and chemicals. However, the herbicide Dicamba, which recently received labeling for use on cotton, could be a financial game changer in the cotton industry.
To “effectively treat the crop without harming it,” the seed must be genetically modified with the ability to resist the chemical that is being applied, said Doug Cossey, Bayer Crop Science representative.
“Dicamba has been registered as a herbicide since the 1960s,” Cossey said. “In Southwest Oklahoma, it will greatly help protect against pig weeds and mares tail.”
Dicamba has been in production under other names, including “Banvel,” as a broad leaf herbicide primarily used on wheat for protection against weeds, said Ted Meyer, Northcentral and Northwest Oklahoma Crop Production Services branch manager. “Dicamba’s increased volatility delayed the herbicide from being labeled for cotton sooner.”
“This has been in the works for a while,” Meyer said. “It takes eight to 12 years to get approval through the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, so we anticipated it would be approved for cotton use eventually.”
The EPA and FDA have discussed Dicamba receiving labeling for cotton use for “three to four years now,” Meyer said.
“Why they allow this to happen, I do not know,” Meyer said. The Dicamba resistant seed was produced quite a while before the actual chemical was produced.”
Meyer said he is excited about Dicamba receiving approval for cotton use because it gives CPS “another tool in the shed.”
“When a producer uses ‘Roundup’ for five years, the weeds become resistant to it,” Meyer said. “Therefore the producer would then switch to using ‘Liberty.’ They will use ‘Liberty’ for around five years and eventually the weeds will become resistant to that also”
“Now we have Dicamba in our ‘tool shed’ which will help immensely, especially with crop rotation,” he added.
Meyer compared this process to taking aspirin.
“If you take one aspirin to help with pain, sooner or later you must take two,” Meyer said.
Crop rotation is the key to long-term success for a farmer, he said.
While Dicamba is the more cost efficient chemical, the cost of Dicamba-resistant seed can range $60 to $80 more than the competition, Meyer said.
“The cost of Dicamba herbicide is considerably less than its competitors,” Meyer said. “I suspect the competing companies will be forced to lower their prices to stay in the ‘supply and demand’ game.”
Innovation has always been a leading factor within the chemical industry, he said, and creations like Dicamba will only provide incentive.
“I believe Dicamba will force innovation among other companies,” Meyer said. “This is an ever-changing industry, and to keep up with their competitors, chemical companies must always be looking ahead.”
Distributors are not the only members of the cotton industry who are hopeful about Dicamba receiving cotton-use approval.
“Dicamba herbicide is approximately half the price of the chemical we have been using in previous years,” said Dan Elsener, Tillman County cattle rancher and cotton producer. “This will help cut our costs and hopefully allow us to plant more acres of cotton this year. The cost of the seed is going to be higher, but seed is a one-time purchase where chemical is not.”
Elsener resides in Tipton, Okla. where few trees grow to block wind, causing him to do a portion of his spraying after dark.
“The application restrictions say we are not allowed to apply Dicamba at night or with winds greater than 10 mph,” Elsener said. “This will make it really hard in Southwest Oklahoma for us to spray, especially considering Dicamba cannot be applied by airplanes either.”
Elsener said he intends to plant Dicamba-resistant seed on several of his farms but not all of them for fear of harming other farmer’s crops.
“I know a few of the other cotton producers are intending to plant strictly Dicamba-resistant seed,” he said. “I am afraid if I do not plant Dicamba-resistant seed on certain farms, the chemicals from my neighbors will drift and harm my crop, which is something we absolutely cannot afford.”
While Elsener is hopeful about the success Dicamba will bring to his region of the state he is also concerned about the repercussions that could occur, he said.
“There was an incident along the Arkansas-Missouri border where the drift from a farmer who used Dicamba harmed the crop of his neighbor who did not have Dicamba-resistant soybeans,” Elsener said. “This ruined long-standing family friendships and is the alleged cause of a murder.”
With Dicamba now being available to cotton producers, companies that do not produce Dicamba are expecting a decrease in sales this year.
“Since Bayer does not have any Dicamba technology this year, we anticipate our sales in chemical and seed to decline,” Cossey said. “Everyone likes new technology.”
New technology like this requires a lot of research, Cossey said. Creating a chemical like this is not “done overnight,” he added.
“Research and production for chemicals like this are extremely expensive and time consuming,” Cossey said. “The costs could be in the upward of $150 million in research alone. From the time a chemical like this is a thought to when the research is completed and approvals are received could be 15 years.”
For Bayer to stay relevant and “in the game” chemists must always think several years in advance, Cossey said.
“A new chemical and/or seed being introduced to a farmer is like the new iPhone 7 coming out,” Cossey said. “Everyone wants to be the first to use it, hoping it will be more productive than what they were previously using.”
Although Bayer Crop Science does not have Dicamba technology this year, by the end of 2017 a possibility exists for Bayer having this technology, Cossey said.
“Bayer is in the process of merging with Monsanto,” Cossey said. “The purchase will cost $66 billion and result in the largest agricultural company to date and allowing Bayer access to Dicamba technology.”