Pages tagged "Dicamba"
As the EPA extends use of the controversial herbicide for two more years, farmers continue to take sides, and the effects on rural America are snowballing.
John and Lisa Zuhlke used to get along well with their neighbor of 10 years. Before they began raising more than 350 varieties of heirloom vegetables and honey on their five-acre operation in Aurora, South Dakota, two years ago, they maintained an amicable relationship with the soybean grower next door. He would scoop snow from their driveway and road and let them hunt his land for dove geese, says John Zuhlke.
Dicamba—the controversial weed killer—upended their relationship.
In August 2017, the leaves on Zuhlke’s vegetable crops started looking deformed, curling up around the edges, or cupping. “It was weird to me. I’d never seen anything like it,” he says. When he asked his neighbor about it, he was told the neighbor had sprayed Engenia, one of three “low volatility” dicamba products that have been approved to spray on fields of dicamba-resistant soybeans after the seedlings have emerged.
Zuhlke lost over $11,000 worth of crops that summer, and had to let over 300 tomato plants rot in the field. Offered no apology, he made a claim on his neighbor’s liability insurance. But the insurance company refused to pay, blaming the product. And while the neighboring farmer had been careful when spraying in the past, that has changed. “Now he hates us,” says a frustrated Zuhlke, who has reported pesticide damage to the state’s department of agriculture three times in two years.
This year, the leaves on Zuhlke’s black walnut and cherry trees even curled up. Lab results he posted on Twitter indicated a cocktail of pesticides: dicamba, glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup), and 2,4-D. As far as he could tell, however, “no one within a half of a mile sprayed,” he says.
Dicamba was first registered in the U.S. in 1967. Known to be volatile, becoming vapor at high temperatures, it was typically only used to clear fields of weeds before planting in late fall or early winter—at times when it would do little damage to nearby plants and didn’t impact growing crops. The new formulations, introduced by Monsanto (now Bayer), Dupont, and BASF in 2016 and 2017, claimed to lower dicamba’s volatility, and therefore its drift potential, in warm spring and summer weather. But the herbicides have proved so problematic for neighboring farms that both Arkansas and Missouri placed temporary bans on them in 2017.
Independent researchers were not allowed to test the products’ volatility before they were registered, and many are still struggling to get a clear picture of how it moves and under which conditions it volatilizes. Many pesticide experts shared a common a sense of dread when dicamba was first registered for use on soybeans and cotton—but the ensuing damage exceeded their fears. “Even the most pessimistic pesticide specialist was shocked by the amount of off-target movement and damage in 2017,” says Andrew Thostenson, a pesticide specialist at North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo.
On Halloween evening, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a long-awaited decision reauthorizing dicamba’s registration for two more years, with additional restrictions to the already-complicated label. And while some of those restrictions may help some farmers avoid harming their neighbors’ crops, it will likely continue to sour more rural relationships in the years ahead.
The state Plant Board gave tentative approval Monday to allowing dicamba for in-crop use next year, though the matter won't be settled for several more weeks.
The board approved a formal "petition for rule making" filed by a group of farmers last month asking for a June 15 cutoff date on spraying a herbicide linked to damage to crops and to other vegetation not tolerant of the chemical the last three growing seasons in Arkansas and other states. The petition asked that spraying of dicamba after June 15 be allowed only by special permit.
Franklin Fogleman of Marion, a Crittenden County farmer who drew up the petition on behalf of 27 other farmers, told the board in his 20-minute presentation that "a large portion of Arkansas farmers" need dicamba to fight pigweed that has grown resistant to other herbicides.
The petition also sets buffers for susceptible crops, including a 1-mile buffer between certified-organic crops and fields where dicamba is sprayed.
Ultimately, after two earlier votes that left the board stuck on high center, the panel voted 11-4 to accept the petition and move it to a 30-day public-comment period and public hearing. The vote mirrors a struggle faced by Plant Board members, farmers and others the past two years: narrow votes, wrangling over parliamentary procedure and, ultimately, sometimes contentious public discussion.
The board's vote follows the announcement last week by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to allow dicamba for in-crop use on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans for another two years, or through the 2020 growing season.
The board, a division of the Arkansas Agriculture Department, received about 1,000 complaints last year of dicamba damage, mainly to soybeans but also to fruits, vegetables, trees, ornamental shrubs and bushes, and to wild vegetation key to pollination.
The 2017 deluge of complaints led to an emergency, 120-day ban that year on the chemical in Arkansas. It also led to the board prohibiting in-crop use of dicamba this year from April 16 through harvest. Still, the board has received 200 complaints this year, leading officials to believe that some farmers violated the ban throughout the summer.
Despite A Ban, Arkansas Farmers are Still Spraying Controversial Weedkiller
The fields and back roads of eastern Arkansas were a crime scene this past summer. State inspectors stopped alongside fields to pick up dying weeds. They tested the liquids in farmers' pesticide sprayers. In many cases, they found evidence that farmers were using a banned pesticide. Dozens of farmers could face thousands of dollars in fines.
The roots of the confrontation go back to a farming fiasco that took place last year. That's when the company Monsanto — now owned by Bayer — rolled out a new way to kill weeds. The company had created some special new varieties of soybeans and cotton that can tolerate a weedkiller called dicamba. Farmers could spray dicamba to kill their weeds, yet these new crops would survive. (It's a weed-killing strategy that Monsanto pioneered with "Roundup Ready" crops 20 years ago, but Roundup isn't working so well anymore. Weeds have become resistant to it.)
"Honestly, I don't think anybody in the whole world dreamed the dicamba could create such an issue, bring so many farmers against farmers," says Terry Fuller, a member of Arkansas' state plant board, which regulates pesticides.
When farmers started spraying dicamba on these new crops, the chemical didn't stay where it belonged. It drifted across the landscape and injured millions of acres of regular crops. The problem was especially bad in Arkansas.
Farmers who sprayed dicamba loved it, but Fuller and the plant board decided that the collateral damage was unacceptable. "Trespassing on your neighbor and your friend, that's not my definition of good for business," he told me last year.
So the plant board passed the most dramatic limits on dicamba in the country. They banned spraying dicamba after April 15 each year — which covers the entire growing season.
By mid-June of this year, though, it was clear that some farmers were defying the ban, especially in Mississippi County, in the northeastern corner of the state. Thousands of acres of soybeans that couldn't tolerate the weedkiller, as well as trees in people's yards, once again were showing the classic signs of dicamba damage: curled leaves and stunted growth. Fuller called it "a sad situation. Really, an unbelievable situation."
Photo from Pixabay.
Across a 1,000-mile long expanse of farm country from the Great Plains to the Midwest, millions of acres of crops have withered, leaving some fields little more than a brown swath of death.
With thousands of complaints of crop damage across more than 3 million acres in 24 states — including some 100 complaints in Iowa — a longtime University of Missouri plant researcher is calling it possibly the greatest pesticide-caused crop damage in U. S. history.
The culprit is the notoriously drift-prone pesticide dicamba that was supposed to be the answer to weeds’ escalating resistance to the world’s most popular pesticide — Monsanto’s glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
As glyphosate-resistant superweeds sprouted across millions of U.S. acres, farmers were assured that spraying both dicamba and glyphosate on a new generation of Monsanto crops genetically altered to resist both pesticides would be the cure.
But the latest pesticide “solution” has created new problems for farmers who choose not to plant those GE crops. With more than 2,600 complaints of widespread damage to soybeans, fruit trees and vegetables, eight states have limited use of dicamba and several class-action lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto.
More than simply an indictment of one pesticide, the dicamba dilemma has spotlighted the challenges of the nation’s increasing dependence on crops genetically altered to resist pesticides, a dependence that has directly fueled an even greater addiction to highly toxic chemicals.
Photo from Flickr.Read more
This was the first year that farmers were allowed to spray it on soybean and cotton fields. (Some farmers did use dicamba illegally last year, provoking disputes between farmers that in one case, led to murder.) Many farmers embraced the new tool. But it quickly turned controversial: Farmers couldn't seem to keep dicamba confined to their own fields.
The problem was worst in Arkansas, where almost 1,000 farmers filed formal complaints of damage caused by drifting dicamba. But the rogue weedkiller has hit fields across soybean-growing areas from Mississippi to Minnesota.
According to estimates compiled by weed scientist Kevin Bradley at the University of Missouri, at least 3 million acres of crops have seen some injury. Most are soybeans that aren't resistant to dicamba, but vegetable crops like watermelons, fruit trees and wild vegetation have been injured as well. The dicamba vapors didn't typically kill the plants but left behind curled leaves and sometimes stunted plants.
"There is no precedent for what we've seen this year," says Bob Scott, a weed specialist with the University of Arkansas.
The Arkansas State Plant Board now has taken the lead in cracking down on the problem. On Thursday, it voted unanimously to ban the use of dicamba on the state's crops from mid-April until November. This amounts to a ban on the use of dicamba in combination with Monsanto's genetically engineered crops. It's not a final decision: The governor and a group of legislative leaders have to sign off on the Plant Board's regulatory decisions, but they usually do so. That won't happen, however, until after a public hearing set for Nov. 8.
The board also approved a steep increase in fines — up to $25,000 — for farmers who use dicamba and similar herbicides illegally.
Farmers planted a new kind of seed on 25 million acres of soybean and cotton fields this year. Developed by Monsanto, the seeds, genetically modified to be resistant to a weed killer called dicamba, are one of the biggest product releases in the company’s history.
But the seeds and the weed killer have turned some farmers — often customers of Monsanto, which sells both — against the company and alarmed regulators.
Farmers who have not bought the expensive new seeds, which started to appear last year, are joining lawsuits, claiming that their crops have been damaged by dicamba that drifted onto their farms. Arkansas announced a 120-day ban of the weed killer this summer, and it is considering barring its use next year after mid-April. Missouri briefly barred its sale in July. And the Environmental Protection Agency, not known for its aggressiveness under President Trump, is weighing its own action.
“I’m a fan of Monsanto. I’ve bought a lot of their products,” said Brad Williams, a Missouri farmer. “I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that there would be some kind of evil nefarious plot to put a defective product out there intentionally.”
Yet he has been dismayed both by damage to his soybean crops, which were within a wide area of farmland harmed by dicamba, and by the impact even to trees on his property. Leaves, he said, were “so deformed you couldn’t even really identify the differences between them.”
The dispute comes as American agriculture sits at a crossroads.
Genetically modified crops were introduced in the mid-1990s. They made it possible to spray weed killers — chiefly Monsanto’s Roundup — on plants after they emerged from the ground, ridding fields of weeds while leaving crops undamaged.
But weeds are becoming more resistant to Roundup, so the industry is developing seeds that are tolerant to more herbicides. Environmentalists and some weed scientists worry that making seeds resistant to more weed killers will increase the use of pesticides.
Monsanto and another company, BASF, have also developed a new, less volatile version of dicamba, which has been around for decades. DowDuPont, which has its own dicamba-resistant seed, is introducing crops resistant to 2,4-D, another old herbicide.
Monsanto formally challenged Arkansas’ ban earlier this month, insisting that 99 percent of its customers were satisfied. It plans to double the use of its new dicamba-resistant soybeans seeds to 40 million acres by next year.
“New technologies take some time to learn,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy. “Thus far, what we’ve seen in the field, the vast majority, more than three-quarters of them, has been due to not following the label.”
The company has also claimed that Arkansas’ decision was “tainted by the involvement” of two scientists tied to a rival, Bayer. Considering that Bayer is acquiring Monsanto, it was an awkward step. Bayer called the men “pre-eminent weed scientists.”
Some foresaw drift problems with dicamba.
For years, Steve Smith, once a member of a dicamba advisory panel set up by Monsanto, urged the company to change course. Mr. Smith, the head of agriculture at Red Gold, a tomato processor based in Indiana, aired his concerns at a congressional hearing in 2010.
“The widespread use of dicamba is incompatible with Midwestern agriculture,” he said in his testimony. “Even the best, the most conscientious farmers cannot control where this weed killer will end up.”
Photo from Flickr.Read more
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is investigating about two dozen complaints from farmers about the weed killer dicamba.
Dicamba is used on soybean fields that have been genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide. But Minnesota farmers have joined hundreds in the southern U.S. who allege that drifting dicamba hurts non-resistant fields.
Tim Carlblom said he has seen distinctive dicamba damage on soybean plants in his fields near the southern Minnesota town of Jeffers.
"You see how these are cupped, and the new ones coming out are severely cupped," Carlbom said, showing damage to his plants. "They'll grow out of it somewhat, but that's still damaged."
His soybeans are also genetically modified, but not for dicamba. Carlbom believes the weed killer drifted on to his soybeans after neighbors sprayed the herbicide on their dicamba-resistant soybeans. He's worried it could hurt the fall harvest.
There are lots of unknowns in the dicamba issue including concrete proof of how widespread the problem is and who is to blame.
Based on talks he had with farmers using the product, Carlblom believes they're spraying dicamba correctly and avoiding windy conditions. He blames the product itself.
"Allegedly, the herbicide that was put on drifted when it shouldn't have," Carlblom said.
That's the same type of complaint hundreds of farmers across the U.S. made after experiencing what they believe to be dicamba damage. The problem is most widespread in the South. Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee have taken steps to restrict or even halt dicamba use.
Affected farmers often blame Monsanto, one of the nation's largest agribusiness corporations which brought dicamba-resistant soybeans to the market.
Photo from Flickr.
Arkansas's pesticide regulators have stepped into the middle of an epic battle between weeds and chemicals, which has now morphed into a battle between farmers. Hundreds of farmers say their crops have been damaged by a weedkiller that was sprayed on neighboring fields. Today, the Arkansas Plant Board voted to impose an unprecedented ban on that chemical.
"It's fracturing the agricultural community. You either have to choose to be on the side of using the product, or on the side of being damaged by the product," says David Hundley, who manages grain production for Ozark Mountain Poultry in Bay, Arkansas.
The tension — which even led to a farmer's murder — is over a weedkiller called dicamba. The chemical moved into the weed-control spotlight a few years ago, when Monsanto created soybean and cotton plants that were genetically modified to survive it. Farmers who planted these new seeds could use dicamba to kill weeds without harming those crops.
Farmers, especially in the South, have been desperate for new weapons against a devastating weed called pigweed, or Palmer amaranth. And some farmers even jumped the gun and started spraying dicamba on their crops before they were legally allowed to do so. (Dicamba has long been used in other ways, such as for clearing vegetation from fields before planting.)
The problem is, dicamba is a menace to other crops nearby. It drifts easily in the wind, and traditional soybeans are incredibly sensitive to it. "Nobody was quite prepared, despite extensive training, for just how sensitive beans were to dicamba," says Bob Scott, a specialist on weeds with the University of Arkansas's agricultural extension service.
As soon as spraying started this spring, the complaints began arriving. By June 23, state regulators had received 242 complaints from farmers who say their crops have been damaged. "This has far eclipsed any previous number of complaints that we've gotten, and unfortunately, this number seems to just keep growing," says Scott. "Every day we get an update with eight or ten more complaints."
Photo from Arkansas Agriculture Department.