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Farmers have flooded state agencies this growing season with complaints about problems with Monsanto and BASF’s new weed killer, dicamba, which has been linked to reports of massive damage to soybean crops when the herbicide drifted to other fields.
According to the wire service Reuters, some states have received four years worth of reports involving crop damage problems from dicamba, sold under the brand name Engenia, in one season.
Researchers with the University of Missouri indicate that as of October 15, 2017, states have initiated 2,708 investigations into dicamba crop damage. Several states, particularly Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, have received many times the number of usual crop damage complaints due to dicamba, and say their investigators and budgets are straining under the load.
Dicamba is a synthetic herbicide, which has been used for years by farmers nationwide to control weeds. However, it was only used during certain times of year.
A growing number of dicamba lawsuits filed in recent months indicate that Monsanto and BASF marketed a new type of dicamba-tolerant crop, which was designed to allow farmers to use Engenia and similar herbicides for “over-the-top use” for the first time in 2016, which involves spraying on crops emerging from the ground.
The farmers indicate that dicamba drifted from other fields onto their own, damaging or killing soybean crops that were not genetically modified to be dicamba resistant.
Arkansas led the nation with 985 dicamba crop damage complaints. The state received a total of about 1,200 complaints involving herbicides and pesticides this year, meaning the vast majority came from dicamba. The state has taken the unusual step of delaying animal feed inspections and granting overtime to inspectors to handle the load.
Missouri has received about 310 dicamba complaints this year, in addition to the 80 petsticide and herbicide claims it typically receives in one year. Illinois received about 245 dicamba complaints, bringing its total so far this year to 421 pesticide and herbicide complaints; the most the state has received since 1989. Iowa farmers filed 270 total pesticide and herbicide complaints, mainly due to dicamba, which more than doubled the 70 to 120 complaints it usually receives in one year.
In response to the crisis, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given 35 states extra financial assistance, in the form of grants, just for analyzing samples of crops allegedly damaged by dicamba.
However, Monsanto claims that there’s nothing wrong with dicamba, and blames farmers for failing to adhere to the instructions for using it safely. The company says it will open a call center next year to help properly instruct farmers on its use.
Critics note that the dicamba labels include up to 4,550 words on how to apply the weed killer, and some farmers say they followed the instructions to the letter, and it still drifted and caused widespread crop damage.
Monsanto indicates it hopes that half of all U.S. soybean crops are dicamba resistant by 2019. That raises questions as to whether the company has any incentive to make the weed killer safer or less resistant to drift. If farmers who do not use dicamba-resistant seeds see their crops damaged by their dicamba-using neighbors, and suffer financial losses, it may push them to buy dicamba-resistant seeds from Monsanto, out of necessity.
A dicamba class action lawsuit filed in August claims that Monsanto rushed the system and either withheld or concealed information from regulatory authorities about the volatility of Engenia, and marketed dicamba-tolerant crops without approval from regulators. The complaint alleges that the manufacturer knew the use of the herbicide would endanger other nearby crops.