Crop Damage from Monsanto’s Herbicide Dicamba Being Investigated in 17 States, Pointing to New Formulation Used in GE Fields
(Beyond Pesticides, August 8, 2017) More than 1,400 official complaints of crop damage related to the herbicide dicamba have been recorded across 17 states this year, leading some to question a new formulation of the chemical used in genetically engineered (GE) fields. Dicamba, a toxic pesticide prone to drift off the target site, has been used in agriculture for decades. However, new GE crops developed by Monsanto must be paired with specific formulations of dicamba, and until now many believed these drift incidents were the result of illegal formulations of dicamba being applied to fields. But the extent of damage now being observed, covering over 2.5 million acres, is casting doubt on this theory, and raising more questions as to whether the new dicamba formulation is actually the cause of the widespread drift damage.
Fruits and vegetables, as well as other crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba are often left cupped and distorted when exposed to the chemical. Monsanto, DuPont Co. and BASF SE sell new formulations of the herbicide for use on dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton, and state enforcement officials and farmers have attributed last year’s damage incidents to off-label uses of older dicamba products.
Initial reports began to surface in Arkansas and Missouri, which recently issued bans on the sale and use of dicamba. As of July 7, nearly 600 complaints of dicamba damage have been filed by Arkansas farmers in 23 different counties. In Missouri, as of July 3, there are 123 cases of dicamba injury complaints under investigation, and according to the Missouri Soybean Association, “[M]ore than 200,000 Missouri soybean acres currently show signs of suspected dicamba damage.” The Arkansas Agriculture Department announced an emergency 120-day ban, which raised civil penalties for misuse of the toxic herbicide from $1,000 to a maximum of $25,000. Missouri Department of Agriculture followed and announced a temporary “Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order” on all dicamba products in the state labeled for agricultural use.
Monsanto has defended its new dicamba product, Xtendimax with VaporGrip Technology, blaming growers for using older versions of dicamba or not following directions on the new product label.
As reported by Bloomberg: “The company attributes the drifting problem to farmers using illegal, off-label products that are more volatile—and thus more prone to drift—than the latest versions of dicamba. They may also be cleaning or using their spraying equipment incorrectly, or applying dicamba when it’s windy, said Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer.”
Weed scientist at the University of Missouri, Kevin Bradley, PhD, in his blog notes dicamba damage of crops on approximately 2.5 million acres by his estimation “constitute a problem for U.S. agriculture,” which cannot be explained away by user errors, failure to follow guidelines, or generic dicamba usage, but on the inherent volatile nature of the herbicide. Other extension agents also cast doubt on current industry talking points blaming farmers, noting it is hard to simply blame the use of old dicamba formulations for all the hundreds of thousands of acres injured. There are reports that the latest dicamba formulation that is to be used on GE dicamba crops (Xtend, Eugenia) is responsible for some cases of drift, and preliminary tests have found that the new formulation does volatilize enough to drift.
It is no coincidence that with the deregulation of GE dicamba-tolerant varieties came increased dicamba use, and now increased incidences of drift and damage to other non-tolerant crops. Dicamba has stirred up fights between neighbors in a number of agricultural communities. Bader Farms, which grows over 110,00 peach trees on over 1,000 acres in Missouri, is suing Monsanto after its insurance company issued a refusal to pay for damages caused by off-label dicamba drift from surrounding farms. In June of this year, University of Arkansas’ agricultural research station had over 100 acres of soybeans ruined from nearby dicamba use. Shockingly, NPR reports that last October a dispute over dicamba drift led to the murder of one Arkansas farmer.
Beyond Pesticides has long advocated a regulatory approach that prohibits hazardous chemical use and requires alternative assessments to identify less toxic practices and products under the unreasonable adverse effects clause of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Farm, beekeeper, and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have urged EPA to follow in the steps of countries like Canada and the European Union by following the precautionary principle, which generally approves products after they have been assessed for harm, not before. Beyond Pesticides suggests an approach that rejects uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, and instead focuses on safer alternatives that are proven effective, such as organic agriculture, which prohibits the use of toxic chemicals. By strengthening on-farm resources, such as soil fertility, pasture and biodiversity, organic farmers can minimize and even avoid the production challenges that most genetically engineered organisms have been falsely-marketed as solving.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.