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Monsanto's Dicamba Problems Are Far From Over. Farmers File Another Lawsuit Over Drift Damage

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Monsanto's Dicamba Problems Are Far From Over. Farmers File Another Lawsuit Over Drift Damage
Cupping symptoms associated with dicamba damage on a cucumber plant. University of Arkansas.

Arkansas farmers filed a class-action lawsuit last week against Monsanto and German chemical company BASF, alleging that the companies' dicamba-based herbicides caused damage to their properties.

The plaintiffs claim that Monsanto and BASF implemented and controlled the dicamba crop system, releasing seed technology without a corresponding, safe and approved herbicide.


According to Hoosier Ag: "The farmers allege that Monsanto and BASF sold the dicamba crop system while knowing it could wipe out crops, fruits, and trees that are not dicamba tolerant. The farmers claim that those who do not plant dicamba tolerant crops are left with no protection from the herbicide."

To date, Arkansas' agriculture department has received 135 dicamba misuse complaints across 17 counties.

The lawsuit comes as the Arkansas State Plant Board considers an in-crop dicamba ban that was proposed by the state's pesticide committee.

The controversy behind the pesticide started last year when Monsanto decided to sell its new dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds several growing seasons before getting federal approval for the corresponding herbicide. Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soybean growers were suspected of illegally spraying older versions of the highly toxic and drift-prone chemical onto the seeds and inadvertently damaged nearby non-target crops due to drift.

The spraying triggered widespread reports of crop damage across thousands of acres in 10 states and several lawsuits against pesticide makers. In October, a drift dispute between Arkansas farmers resulted in one farmer being shot to death.

"The dicamba crisis was created and forced upon the farming industry. Crops are at risk. Relationships are at risk. There have already been tragedies due to this crisis," Arkansas plaintiffs attorney Paul Byrd said.

"Crops, fruits and trees that are not dicamba resistant were injured causing extensive damage to farmers' crops in Arkansas and other states throughout the 2016 growing season, including Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Farmers' livelihoods are at stake, and we want to protect their interests," added attorney Phillip Duncan.

Both companies sell dicamba-based herbicides, Xtendimax with VaporGrip by Monsanto and Engenia by BASF, for in-crop use on Monsanto's seeds that are genetically modified to resist the pesticide. These formulations are supposedly less drift-prone and volatile compared to older versions of dicamba.

Along with Arkansas, agriculture officials in Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi have either already received or are gearing up for more dicamba drift complaints this year, DTN reported.

"We are here to support our customers and, if requested, can assist in investigating an off-target allegation in an advisory capacity to provide technical support," BASF told DTN.

Monsanto told DTN that it is aware of media reports regarding off-target movement of dicamba, but is not willing to draw conclusions on the reports at this time and re-emphasized the importance of following all product labeling and local requirements.

But the Center for Biological Diversity is calling for a ban of dicamba pesticides in Arkansas.

"What we're seeing in Arkansas is proof of what we all already knew—that this dangerous, drift-prone pesticide is not safe to use," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Assurances from pesticide makers that new dicamba products and tighter application regulations would end the drift problems that damaged hundreds of thousands of acres simply ignored reality."

"This dicamba crisis is only the latest evidence that dumping more pesticides on the landscape is a road to nowhere," Donley continued. "And it's only going to get worse—Monsanto predicts that annual dicamba use on soybeans and cotton will jump from less than one million pounds just a few years ago to more than 25 million over the next three to four years."

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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