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Associated Press
Blake Beckett of West Central Cooperative sprays a soybean field in Granger, Iowa. Corn and soybean farmers throughout the Midwest hope the Environmental Protection Agency will rule in favor of a new herbicide this fall.

Farmers await herbicide ruling

WASHINGTON – Faced with tough­er and more resistant weeds, corn and soybean farmers are anxiously awaiting government decisions on a new version of a popular herbicide – and on genetically modified seeds to grow crops designed to resist it.

Critics say more study is needed on the effects of the herbicide, and they are concerned it could endanger public health.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to rule this fall on Dow AgroSciences’ application to market Enlist, a new version of the 2,4-D herbicide that’s been around since the 1940s. It’s partly a game of catch-up for the agriculture industry, as many farmers are dealing with weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide commonly used on corn and soybeans now.

If approved, the 2,4-D would be used in combination with glyphosate.

An Agriculture Department decision on the company’s genetically modified seeds also is expected this fall. In the department’s final en­vironmental review released last week, the USDA recommended approval. The agency said that if the seeds and herbicide are approved, the use of 2,4-D could increase by an estimated 200 percent to 600 per­cent by the year 2020.

While the USDA oversees only the safety of the plants, the EPA oversees the safety of the herbicide for human and environmental health. The agency has already found the chemical safe several times for other species as well as for the public and agricultural workers.

Groups lobbying the agency to prevent the herbicide’s expanded use say they are concerned about the toxic effects of the herbicide and the potential for it to drift.

Corn and soybeans are the nation’s largest crops, and the potential for expanded use is huge.

Damon Palmer of Dow AgroSciences says the new version has been re-engineered to solve potential problems, such as drift before and after the herbicide hits the plant.

The herbicide 2,4-D is now used on other crops, including wheat, and on pastures and home lawns. It is the world’s most popular herbicide and the third-most popular in the United States, behind atrazine and glyphosate.

Most corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are already genetically engineered. Before Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was introduced in 1976, most farmers tilled their fields prior to planting, flipping the soil over and burying the weeds to kill them.

The technique also exposed tilled earth to the air, creating problems with erosion and runoff and re­leasing greenhouse gases.

Herbicide-resistant seeds per­mit­ted most farmers to stop tilling be­cause they could spray fields after their plants emerged, killing the weeds but leaving crops unharmed.

Critics expressed concern that if the herbicide is approved, weeds will eventually become resistant to it, too.

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