Pages tagged "Dicamba Ban"
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.
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
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.