ENDERLIN, N.D. - Steve Miller, who farms at the intersection of Barnes, Cass and Ransom counties near Enderlin, sees 70 acres of severely damaged soybeans from what he believes is caused by errant dicamba herbicide.
Miller, 50, saw the cupped, blistered leaves and white brittle leaf tips and sent in samples to an out-of-state laboratory to confirm what he already suspects - dicamba damage on his Roundup Ready 1 beans.
He strongly believes at least one commercial applicator for one of neighbors misapplied dicamba - spraying on a sensitive field that is downwind and without a proper survey or border buffer. He also thinks that part of the damage that penetrated his field 500 to 600 feet from the border was due to volatilization - a lifting and traveling like cloud, even days after the fact.
Miller thinks the landlords, the operating farmers or the applicators should be responsible for the losses.
Monsanto Co, which with BASF and DuPont has been marketing seeds that go with the dicamba formulations, on July 10 held an upbeat "mid-season report" on dicamba in the form of a news conference via telephone.
Ryan Rubishko, Monsanto's North America dicamba portfolio lead, told reporters that the level of complaints in 2018 are "about the same" as the 156 complaints last year at this time. More importantly - like last year - none so far have been proven as resulting from "volatilization," Rubishko said. Monsanto didn't provide state-by-state figures.
It may soon become more clear whether off-target drift will be a big issue in North Dakota.
Tyler Kralicek, a pesticide and fertilizer division enforcement supervisor with the state department of agriculture in Bismarck, said 21 formal complaints have been filed so far this summer, compared to 40 throughout all of last season.
Kralicek said it's easier to prove responsibility for dicamba exposure if there is only one neighbor spraying a chemical. According to state law, the alleged victim must notify the "applicator" within 28 days of noticing damage in order to preserve their right to sue for damages.
Andrew Thostenson, North Dakota State University Extension pesticide specialist, on his website confirmed that a dicamba survey will take place again this year. The survey will indicate details about dicamba issues that farmers don't want to file as formal complaints. Thostenson said everybody has been hopeful "all the training and interventions" put in place since 2017 would make a significant difference for 2018.
Thostenson has been in the field this week and on July 11 said he'd seen "fieldwide" apparent dicamba drift problems west of West Fargo, and had "no problem" identifying instances of dicamba damage on a tour of northern Cass County. Symptoms typically appear 10 days after exposure and intensity can increase from 14 to 28 days after exposure.
"I think we're not going to have a good handle on things for another seven to 10 days," Thostenson said on July 11.
Miller, who plants soybeans in an annual rotation with wheat, said this year's troubled soybean field covers an entire irregular half section including about 200 acres of soybeans and some wheat.
Two neighbors to the north - one to the northwest and one to the northeast - both planted soybeans. Neither are marked with the checkered dicamba flags, designed as a notice to surrounding farmers of the herbicides used in their crop.
On May 4, Miller had planted Roundup Ready 1 beans and on June 9 had sprayed them with with name-brand Roundup. His beans started developing a good canopy and were taller than those of the neighbors to the north.
Also on June 9, Miller says the northwest neighbor told him that both soybean fields to his north were dicamba-resistant beans. On June 19, the northwest neighbor sprayed dicamba in the morning with a light wind. The same afternoon, he says an area cooperative, spraying for the northeast neighbor, applied dicamba with a 9 mph northeast wind, with Miller's non-dicamba beans downwind.
Miller's father, Don Miller, watched the sprayer go across the northeast quarter, and Steve showed up at the end. "I just hoped and prayed it was not dicamba," Seve remembers.
By June 30, Steve saw his beans "shrink down," while the neighbors' beans thrived. The plant canopy opened up and exposed the ground to sunlight, causing weeds to thrive - redroot pigweed, lambsquarters and kochia.
Steve approached his northwest neighbor about the problem. The neighbor was "very polite" and said he'd make up for any lost yield. Similarly, the northeast farm owner referred him to the renter, has agreed with Steve and is putting him in touch with the commercial applicator.
Miller on July 6 contacted Kevin Coufal, an agricultural program inspector with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. Coufal came July 9 to collect samples for laboratory analysis for an official complaint. Miller separately collected his own samples and has sent them to an out-of-state lab.
Steve also contacted Barnes County Extension agent Randy Greuneich at Valley City, who said lab results can confirm dicamba application but scientific "data does not exist" to definitively link the parts-per-million of dicamba to any particular yield loss. So much of the yield is based on other weather factors.
Greuneich said last year he had some "pretty substantial issues with dicamba" damage. The phone started ringing about dicamba again last week. Besides giving advice, he told farmers to contact their commodity organizations to tell them what they think about the new dicamba - either good or bad.
Miller refused to pay the $10 an acre premium for dicamba-resistant soybeans simply as a defensive measure but now is paying the price. Apolitical by nature, he said he thinks dicamba formulations are too unpredictable to be approved by the North Dakota agriculture commissioner and that officials who approve it should be voted out.
"You can have damage from it and nobody's responsible," he said.