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17 States Investigate Dicamba Damage Complaints Spanning 2.5 Million Acres

Food

Complaints of crop damage from the powerful and volatile weedkiller dicamba have increased rapidly around the country.

According to weed scientist and University of Missouri associate professor Kevin Bradley, 17 state governments are investigating more than 1,400 official complaints of dicamba-related injuries this year covering 2.5 million acres.


"This is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed," Bradley wrote.

Reports suggest that farmers applied the herbicide to Monsanto Co.'s new dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton crops to beat back ever-resistant weeds, but the drift-prone chemical can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring non-target fields, crops and native plants. Fruits and vegetables, as well as other crops that are not genetically engineered to withstand dicamba, are often left cupped and distorted when exposed to the chemical.

The current rash of complaints echoes the similar devastation last summer, when 10 states reported hundreds of thousands of crop acres adversely impacted by the apparent misuse of the herbicide.

Although dicamba has been around for decades, Monsanto, DuPont Co. and BASF SE sells new formulations of the herbicide that's said to be less drift-prone and volatile than older versions when used correctly.

Monsanto execs defended its product, blaming growers for using older versions of dicamba or not following directions on the new product label. As reported by Bloomberg:

The company attributes the drifting problem to farmers using illegal, off-label products that are more volatile—and thus more prone to drift—than the latest versions of dicamba. They may also be cleaning or using their spraying equipment incorrectly, or applying dicamba when it's windy, said Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer.

But Bradley, University of Missouri's weed scientist, casted off what he considers as industry excuses:

First, does 1,411 official dicamba-related injury investigations and/or approximately 2.5 million acres of dicamba-injured soybean constitute a problem for U.S. agriculture? I guess it depends on your perspective but my answer is an emphatic yes. If you think so as well, let others know how you feel and let's stop the standard denial routine that I have heard so often this season. Instead, lets put our time and effort into figuring out where we go from here as an industry and what's going to be different about next season.

Second, I said previously that the purpose of this article is NOT to debate about the reasons for off target movement. And it isn't. And I'm not. But the reasons for off-target movement of dicamba are the number one thing we are going to have to discuss if you agree that there is a problem. So my last question is this; can you look at the scale and the magnitude of the problem on these maps and really believe that all of this can collectively be explained by some combination of physical drift, sprayer error, failure to follow guidelines, temperature inversions, generic dicamba usage, contaminated glufosinate products, and improper sprayer clean out, but that volatility is not also a factor?

I know what my perspective is, what's yours?

In recent months, states such as Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri—Monsanto's home state—have imposed temporary bans or restrictions on the use of dicamba to curb further damage. Farmers in several states have filed lawsuits against BASF, DuPont and Monsanto over damages.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now reviewing its directions on how to use the new formulations following the crop damage reports.

"We are reviewing the current use restrictions on the labels for these dicamba formulations in light of the incidents that have been reported this year," agency spokeswoman Amy Graham told Reuters.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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