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Dicamba Damage Roars Back for Third Season in a Row

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Soybeans with cupped leaves, a symptom of dicamba injury. University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

University weed scientists have reported roughly 383,000 acres of soybean injured by a weedkiller called dicamba so far in 2018, according to University of Missouri plant sciences professor, Kevin Bradley.

Dicamba destroys mostly everything in its path except the crops that are genetically engineered (GE) to resist it. The drift-prone chemical can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring non-target fields. Plants exposed to the chemical are left wrinkled, cupped or stunted in growth.


Bradley, who has extensively tracked the damage caused by dicamba, noted that this is the third growing season in a row where off-target crops and trees have been affected.

During the 2017 crop season—the first year Monsanto's new dicamba-based XtendiMax was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on the company's Xtend soybeans and cotton—the herbicide reportedly damaged an estimated 3.6 million acres of off-target crops in more than two dozen states.

Similar devastation occurred in 2016, when 10 states reported hundreds of thousands of crop acres adversely impacted by the apparent misuse of older, unapproved versions of the herbicide.

It appears dicamba damage has roared back this summer. Bradley wrote:

"Many growers in [Missouri] have adopted the Xtend trait so they don't experience dicamba injury on their soybean crop for a third season in a row. Since the adoption of the Xtend trait is so high in this area, relatively speaking there seem to be fewer soybean fields with injury this year compared to last. However, just as in the past two seasons, there are still fields of non-Xtend soybean in this area showing injury from one end to the other. More surprising to me than that has been the extent of the trees that are showing symptoms of growth regulator herbicide injury in that part of the state where the adoption of this trait is so high."

Monsanto, DuPont Co. and BASF SE sell new formulations of the herbicide said to be less drift-prone and volatile than older versions when used correctly.

Monsanto's chief technology officer Robert Fraley, who recently announced that he and other top executives are stepping down from the company after Bayer AG's multi-billion dollar takeover, tweeted on June 16 that there were "very few injury reports so far this year" due to the company's efforts to make instructions for proper spraying easier to follow.

However, a Twitter used named @rkbier tweeted back on June 21: "Our fruit trees and tomatoes in our yard are a mile away from the nearest dicamba field and have damage. EVERY acre of [LibertyLink] and [non-GMO] bean on our fields is damaged no matter how far away from dicamba they are. There are BIG problems."

Of the 15 state departments of agriculture that responded to requests for information, only 43 cases of alleged injury are currently under investigation with soybeans, Bradley said in a University of Missouri press release.

Bradley expressed concern about Xtend technology adoption increasing this year and in ensuing years, noting that Monsanto expects 2018 Xtend acres to double from 2017 to 50 million acres in 2018.

DTN reported that the EPA is planning to make a decision by mid-August on whether or not to extend the registrations of XtendiMax, BASF's Engenia and DuPont's FeXapan, which expire Nov. 2018, as Tony Cofer, president of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials, explained to the website.

"Our goal is to make a regulatory decision in time to inform seed and weed management purchase decisions for the 2019 growing season," an EPA spokesperson also told DTN via email.

Here are the soybean injury numbers, by acres, in individual states, according to the University of Missouri:

  • Arkansas 100,000
  • Illinois: 150,000
  • Indiana: 5,000
  • Iowa: 1,200
  • Kansas: 100
  • Kentucky: 500
  • Nebraska: 40
  • Missouri: 25,000
  • Mississippi: 100,000
  • Tennessee: 2,000

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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