A U.S. federal court on Wednesday rescinded approval of a popular herbicide used in products by Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, sparking supply concerns as farmers prepare for planting season.
The Environmental Protection Agency violated public input rules when it approved three dicamba-based weedkillers in 2020, according to a ruling by Arizona District Court Judge David Bury. The agency also understated the risks to human health and the environment that come with spraying the herbicide, the judge said.
The ruling revokes registration of Bayer's XtendiMax, BASF's Engenia and Sygnenta's Tavium. Farm groups warn the decision could bring disruption to the upcoming planting season.
"Farmers have already made their decisions about what varieties of cotton and soybean seed they want to plant in 2024, and retailers are already stocking not only the seed but also the herbicides these growers will need for their systems," Darren Coppock, CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association, said in a statement. "This court decision, issued after those plans have been made and while retailers are procuring the products necessary to fulfill them, comes at the worst possible time in the season."
Bayer, Syngenta and BASF are reviewing legal options and assessing their next steps, the companies said in separate statements sent to Agriculture Dive. The dicamba-based products are sprayed on genetically-resistant cotton and soybeans to control weeds that have become increasingly resistant to other herbicides.
"The use of dicamba is integral to controlling broadleaf weeds and invasive plants," a Syngenta spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Agriculture Dive. "It is imperative that farmers have access to newer dicamba technologies as they work to protect their livelihoods, supply food, and meet ever-increasing weed control challenges in an environmentally safe and sound way.”
When sprayed, dicamba can drift from its intended target and damage the surrounding environment or even other agricultural crops. Environmental groups hailed the ruling, calling it a conservation win for endangered plants and pollinators.
A U.S. appeals court had previously restricted sales of dicamba-based herbicides in June 2020, again noting the EPA "understated risks." The EPA reinstated approval of the products four months later with new restrictions, though environmental groups say the changes aren't enough to prevent drift damage.
"This is a vital victory for farmers and the environment," George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety's legal director and counsel in the case, said in a statement. "Time and time again, the evidence has shown that dicamba cannot be used without causing massive and unprecedented harm."
The American Farm Bureau Federation is asking the EPA to issue an existing stock order to ensure dicamba remains available throughout the growing season. The agency had issued a similar order in 2020, which allowed for growers to access existing supplies of dicamba despite the restrictive court ruling.
"Without these products, not only are these substantial investments at risk, but farmers do not know how they will protect their crops," President Zippy Duvall wrote in a letter to the agency Thursday.