Published Aug 20, 2014

Dow’s Enlist Duo: Reflections from July 11 Field Day

By Liz Kolbe

Special thanks to Greg King and Tony Thompson for their thoughtful conversation after the field day and for editing this post.

An additional, excellent recap of the Dow Field Day written by ISU Extension Specialist Joe Hannan is available in the e-newsletter.  If you have ideas of ways Practical Farmers can help facilitate communication among stakeholders or support farmers on pesticide drift issues, I’d love to hear from you or read your comments.

On July 11, I attended a field day for Dow Enlist Duo (the herbicide with 2,4-D and glyphosate, seeking EPA approval)  in Ankeny, IA, along with several PFI farmers, ISU horticulture extension, and IDALS staff. The field day was specifically for specialty crop farmers with concerns about the new technology, and representatives from Dow spent four hours showing us test plots and answering questions. 

I have heard, and continue to hear devastating accounts of pesticide drift affecting farmers’ and rural residents businesses, crops and livestock, relationships, health, and the health of their children. Many in the PFI membership worry about the impact of pesticide drift on small farm viability and farmer safety as well as the aggregate effects of low-level pesticide exposure on our health and children’s development. Practical Farmers fruit and vegetable members have identified pesticide drift as their top priority (tied with profit). We are working with Pesticide Action Network to extend their Drift Catcher work in Iowa, and have hosted field days and conference sessions on the subject. Our goal is to increase conversations around pesticide drift among all stakeholders: from those using chemicals, to those affected by drift, to consumers.

At the Dow field day, Dow expressed that the company is worried about drift, too, and within the paradigm of its industry, is doing due diligence to prevent it. Here’s how:

Colex-D technology (2,4-D choline) in the Enlist Duo herbicide reduces the instance of drift and volatilization (movement after application). People are rightly skeptical of this claim – has it been verified by a third party? In the field day trials, the new herbicide does not volatilize like currently available formulations of dicamba (Banvel, Diablo, Oracle, Vanquish) or 2,4-D (amine salts and esters). They showed side-by-side volatilization simulations where they set a cat litter box sprayed with the chemical under a plastic low tunnel planted to soybeans. The beans under the dicamba tunnel – mostly dead or yellowing. 2,4-D ester looked bad, too. In the tunnel with the Enlist Duo herbicide, only the plants directly next to the cat box were yellowing.

But what if applicators use the currently available formulations of 2,4-D or dicamba instead of the Enlist Duo with Colex-D on the tolerant seed? That would be hugely, widely problematic for specialty crops and rural residents… and for Dow. To combat the probability of that scenario, a farmer cannot buy the Enlist seed without signing up to the entire weed control package – that is, with Enlist seed, if a farmer sprays a 2,4-D herbicide, it MUST be Enlist Duo. If they use currently available dicamba or 2,4-D formulations, they are “off-label” and in violation of EPA regulations.

Will that be enough incentive? Probably not always, if current formulations of dicamba and 2,4-D are cheaper to apply. For that reason, the Enlist Duo is priced the same as available dicamba and 2,4-D products.  Additionally, the Dow reps said if a farmer went off-label and used currently available 2,4-D or dicamba with the Enlist seed, they would not sell the seed to them the following year.

Dow has also put more protection for specialty crops on the chemical label. Many pesticide labels instruct applicators not to apply if wind speeds are over 10 mph. The Enlist Duo label keeps the wind speed and includes, “or if the wind is blowing toward a sensitive crop.” So technically, if wind is blowing from the west and your farm is to the east of the application, the applicator is off-label no matter the wind speed. Dow calls their emphasis on responsible use “product stewardship”.

The Save Our Crops Coalition (a group of farmers who are fighting the effects of 2,4-D and dicamba) has worked with Dow on these measures. They continue to work together on expanding and funding Drift WatchSave our Crops Coalition has less friendly feelings toward Monsanto and BASF.

But not even Dow can control the bad actors, and they are certainly concerned about it. Increased damage from 2,4-D, dicamba, or irresponsible use of Enlist Duo could cause the seed to be pulled from use.

Certainly issues remain. Could there be synergistic impacts of the pesticides in the environment? Unclear. Will a greater volume of pesticides be applied to the landscape? Unclear, and it depends. Will more 2,4-D be used? Yes, but (hopefully) less of the currently available formulations with high instance of volatilization. Will chemical weed control continue in place of more cultural practices (crop rotation) for weed control? Yes. Is resistance going to remain problematic? With this weed management plan, Dow (and others) will rely on hitting weeds through multiple modes of action, making the weed’s evolutionary path to resistance more complicated; I’d never bet against evolution, though.

The Enlist reps also pointed out that they could have released the tolerant seed without the new formulation of 2,4-D, but they knew that would be catastrophic with regard to drift, so they waited and worked “across the aisle.”

The Enlist Duo reps at the field day think the new herbicide will reduce drift on the landscape, not increase it. They have made compromises and acquiesced on key issues with Save our Crops Coalition. The Enlist app has been released in expectation of seed and herbicide available in 2015.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating (and to take the metaphor further, the serving!). When discussing the issue with PFI member Greg King, he noted that a lasting concern regarding the 2,4-D resistant seed and chemical goes beyond any specific product  – to the applicator, their training and care. Even if Dow has good intentions to make a “better” product, it doesn’t do any good if it’s applied irresponsibly.

Soon it will be up to farmers, applicators, and rural residents to do their due diligence – communicate, follow the law, and protect each other.