USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has announced plans to prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) on 2,4-D- and dicamba-resistant crops.

The crops, which include Dow AgroSciences’ 2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybeans and Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton, are expected on the market by mid-decade.

APHIS noted that both herbicides “have been safely and widely used across the country since the 1960s to control weeds on crop and non-crop sites. If approved, the genetically engineered technology would provide farmers the flexibility for new applications of these herbicides, while also offering farmers additional crop planting options.”

Monsanto said it “will cooperate with APHIS as it prepares an EIS on the company’s next-generation dicamba weed management technologies: Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton technologies.”

Rob Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said he hopes the company can use data from a previously completed environmental assessment on dicamba crops, and from EISs previously prepared for alfalfa and sugar beets, to help expedite an EIS on dicamba.

Monsanto took the delay in stride, saying it will continue to use its Ground Breakers program to provide educational opportunities on dicamba-resistant crops at regional learning centers. Preparing the EIS, Fraley said, “gives us one more year of determining which of the new varieties perform the best.”

“U.S. farmers tell us that they need these critical technologies to help manage tough-to-control weeds on their farms to maximize yield potential and meet the world’s growing demands,” said Lisa Safarian, U.S. row crops lead for Monsanto. “While unexpected, we’ll use this timing to broaden the development of high-yielding varieties that we’ll ultimately be able to deliver to the farm.”

Dow AgroSciences also quickly responded to the APHIS announcement. “We will continue to support our customers by working with USDA/APHIS to get the much-needed Enlist technologies approved for commercial use as soon as possible.”

The crop traits “would provide farmers the flexibility for new applications of these herbicides, while also offering farmers additional crop planting options.Four years ago, Dow AgroSciences began submissions of a robust and thorough data package to support the Enlist traits. Since that time, glyphosate-resistant and hard-to-control weeds have spread across our nation’s farmland. Twenty-five states are now affected and the number of new acres infested in 2012 increased by 50 percent over the previous year. These adverse trends will continue without new state-of-the-art solutions like the Enlist weed control system.”

The Save Our Crops Coalition, which in 2012 petitioned USDA to prepare an EIS to consider the environmental impacts of dicamba-tolerant crops, said it was “pleased that USDA has now chosen to undertake a comprehensive review of these crops. (We) hope that this process will better inform the decision-makers at USDA and EPA about the vastly increased potential for non-target plant damage impacts caused by dicamba spray drift and volatilization.”

Shannon Hauf, Monsanto global dicamba and weed management lead, said significant improvement has been made in dicamba formulations that minimize drift potential, and that Monsanto, “will not authorize the use of older formulations for use on dicamba crops.”

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, APHIS is required to evaluate the potential environmental impacts that could result from a deregulation of new GE plants. If APHIS finds that its potential regulatory decision may significantly affect the quality of the human environment, the agency must prepare an EIS before making a decision on the proposed federal action.

In preparing the EIS’s, APHIS plans to host upcoming public meetings that will be publicized through the Federal Register and the agency’s Web site.