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New Dicamba Drift Estimate: 1.1 Million Acres Damaged Already in 2018

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Brian Smith and his cousin Hughes, both fifth generation soybean farmers in Mississippi County, Arkansas, stand in soybean fields their family tend to that show signs of having been affected by dicamba use in August, 2017. Getty Images

A University of Missouri report released Thursday estimates that drift damage from the pesticide dicamba has occurred across 1.1 million acres of agricultural crops, trees and other plants so far this year.

This comes less than a year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many states introduced additional restrictions meant to prevent off-target damage from the pesticide. Last year dicamba drift wreaked havoc on a reported 3.6 million acres of soybean crops not genetically engineered to resist the notoriously drift-prone pesticide.


"The widespread damage to crops and even hearty trees like the catalpa and Bradford pear confirms this drift-prone poison can't be safely used and shouldn't get approved by the EPA again," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "You'd have better luck herding kittens than getting dicamba to stay put. The EPA's new leadership needs to end the use of this dangerous pesticide."

Highly toxic dicamba products are designed for use primarily on next-generation soybeans genetically engineered to resist what would normally be a fatal dose of the pesticide.

A previous report released last month noted that reported damage to specialty crops, vegetables, ornamental species and trees has increased dramatically, indicating that many types of plants can be damaged by dicamba.

Earlier this year a Center for Biological Diversity report found that more than 60 million acres of monarch butterfly habitat are projected to be sprayed with dicamba by next year. Dicamba can degrade monarch habitat in two ways: by harming flowering plants that provide nectar for adults as they travel south for the winter and by harming milkweed, which, as the only food of monarch caterpillars, is essential for the butterfly's reproduction.

"In addition to the farming community again getting slammed by dicamba drift, this uncontrollable pesticide is harming wild plants just outside of agricultural fields that provide important animal habitat," said Donley. "The only reason farmers are turning to dicamba is to kill the glyphosate-resistant superweeds sprouting across millions of acres. Dumping more and more pesticides on crops just keeps farmers on the pesticide treadmill. Meanwhile neighboring farms and wildlife pay the cost."

Dicamba has a time-limited regulatory federal approval that is subject to expiration by Nov. 9, 2018 unless it is renewed by the EPA. The agency will decide in mid-August whether to renew the new dicamba registration or let it expire.

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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

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"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


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