Local orchard dealing with effects of dicamba damage - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Local orchard dealing with effects of dicamba damage

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UNION COUNTY, Ill. -- A herbicide aimed at improving weed control in soybean fields is notorious for off-target drift. It’s now hit a southern Illinois orchard and will likely lead to the loss of numerous trees and it’s blamed for smaller fruit. News 3 has been looking into the effects of the weed killer dicamba for the past two years. 

Dicamba has been around for decades, but only recently used on soybeans. The potent herbicide, when combined with engineered beans, is an effective weedkiller, taking down weeds that have grown resistant to RoundUp.

Millions of acres of soybeans engineered for dicamba were planted in 2018. While some may see that as a success, since the newer formulations have been introduced along with engineered beans, hundreds of complaints have been filed with damage due to the product drifting on to neighboring fields and beyond. Plants, including soybeans, that are not tolerant of dicamba are damaged in these instances. 

While Dicamba is great at killing weeds, it also kills other broadleaf plants and trees.

Despite new formulations and strict guidelines, it's still notorious for its volatility. It can easily move and drift away from the fields where it's being sprayed

Jeff Flamm says in his 40 years, he's never seen so many curled up, brown leaves. He says it's likely that hundreds of peach trees have been damaged."In the overall scheme of things, it's a relatively small percentage, but just by driving around, I think that number is going to go up," Jeff said.

The first signs of damage to peach trees started showing up in early July and then in apple trees later in the season.

All signs point to one thing: Dicamba.

"We've had several different agronomists and different experts come in and everybody seems to agree that that's what's probably going on.," Mike Flamm said.

Both Jeff and Mike are a bit surprised at the damage since heir orchard sits in the hills and there's not an abundance of row crops around.

"I didn't think that this was an issue we'd ever have to deal with. Not in our location," Mike Flamm said.

"We're not pointing fingers at anyone. We're not accusing anybody of using anything off label or in an negligent manner," said Jeff Flamm.

But it's more than brown leaves and potentially dead trees. What looked like a great apple crop has left the Flamm's disappointed with apples that are smaller than expected.

"You can figure, if you lose a quarter of inch in diameter, it probably relates to about a 20 to 25 percent loss in volume," Jeff said.

Luckily, the safety and quality of the fruit is not impacted at all, but smaller apples are less valuable and less desirable.

"I wouldn't say at this point that it's devastating, but it could be in the future," Mike said,

"It's a little scary. We don't know where we're going to end up a year from now or five years from now," Jeff said.

Right now, they can only wait and reach out to lawmakers hoping to persuade them to help out. The EPA is expected to make a decision any day now on what changes, if any, will be made to how Dicamba can be used going forward.

States also have the ability to step in and add restrictions and regulations.

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