Aug. 28, 2017 11:21AM EST
The Arkansas Dicamba Task Force has recommended a cut-off date for the use of the highly drift-prone and volatile herbicide by next April 15 for the 2018 season.
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The Arkansas Dicamba Task Force has recommended a cut-off date for the use of the highly drift-prone and volatile herbicide by next April 15 for the 2018 season.
Transcript of the video:
Mike Papantonio: Monsanto is wreaking havoc once again with one of their herbicides, Dicamba. Hundreds of farmers in Arkansas have filed complaints about Dicamba, while states like Missouri were forced to temporarily ban its use, with Tennessee also banning it shortly thereafter. Joining me now is attorney Bev Randles.
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.
The plaintiffs claim that Monsanto and BASF implemented and controlled the dicamba crop system, releasing seed technology without a corresponding, safe and approved herbicide.
Farmers across 10 states are suing Monsanto, alleging that the agrochemical company sold dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean crops knowing that illegal spraying of the highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide would be inevitable.
Steven W. Landers, et al v. Monsanto Company was filed on Jan. 26 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division. Kansas City law firm Randles & Splittgerber filed on behalf of Steven and Deloris "Dee" Landers and similarly harmed farmers in 10 states—Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
The farmers seek damages for claims including negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, conspiracy, disgorgement of profits and punitive damages.
According to a press release from the law firm, Steven and Dee Landers operate their family owned farms in New Madrid County, Missouri, and have been in business since 1976. The Landers claim that their farms have been greatly damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba on Monsanto's Roundup Ready Xtend crops, which are genetically engineered to resist dicamba and Roundup (aka glyphosate).
Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber told EcoWatch that the Landers' 1,550-acre farm primarily grows soybeans and corn. In 2016, they experienced dicamba damage on more than half of their crops and acreage, resulting in a reduction of their yields in approximately the same percentage, especially with respect to their soybeans.
The farmers in the lawsuit allege that the biotech giant knowingly marketed its Xtend cotton and soybean seeds to farmers without any safe herbicide. The lawsuit claims that the company knew the only option purchasers would have to protect crops grown from those seeds would be to illegally spray dicamba to protect the crops from weeds.
"Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated," said Randles. "Monsanto's own advertising repeatedly describes its Xtend seeds and its accompanying herbicide as a 'system' intended to be used together. But when Monsanto failed to get approval to sell the herbicide, it recklessly chose to go ahead and sell the seeds regardless."
"The inevitable result was farmers throughout the country used illegal and dangerous herbicides to try to protect the Xtend seeds. That inappropriate use of herbicides, which Monsanto knew would occur and encouraged, decimated hundreds of thousands of acres of crops nationwide," Randles added.
Monsanto's rollout of its Xtend system has been marked by controversy ever since the company sold its Xtend cotton and soybeans several growing seasons before getting federal approval for the corresponding herbicide.
Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced in 2016. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only approved the corresponding herbicide, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, in late 2016. The new weedkiller is a combination of dicamba and glyphosate and is meant to address the proliferation of "superweeds" that have grown resistant to glyphosate.
Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soybean growers were suspected of illegally spraying older versions of dicamba onto their crops and inadvertently damaging nearby non-target crops due to drift.
Monsanto has officially broken ground on a $975 million expansion to its Luling plant in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. The facility will manufacture dicamba, a controversial herbicide used in the company's new XtendiMax weedkiller for GMO soybeans and cotton.
Despite the company's promise to bring 120 new full-time jobs to the area, it seems many locals are unhappy with the project.
Angry online comments have flooded the Times-Picayune's coverage of the Feb. 3 groundbreaking. The newspaper's Facebook post of the story has garnered 433 shares and 114 comments so far, with many people criticizing the new plant as well as the company itself.
"120 jobs isn't worth having this toxic company in your backyard...," the top Facebook comment states. The comment was "Liked" 117 times.
"Diacamba [sic] is bad. California just won the right to label Roundup as cancer causing," a newspaper reader commented. "So excited for Cancer Alley to grow."
Indeed, California could become the first state to require Monsanto to label its glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, as a possible carcinogen following a judge's tentative ruling on Jan. 27. Monsanto opposes the ruling, saying its top-selling product is safe.
But Monsanto's $975 million investment on dicamba represents a major shift from its "bread-and-butter glyphosate herbicide business," as Reuters noted. Glyphosate, the world's most widely applied herbicide, has faced intense backlash ever since the World Health Organization's cancer research arm linked the compound to cancer in March 2015.
The other major problem with glyphosate is the proliferation of "superweeds" that have grown resistant to the herbicide. Monsanto's new XtendiMax weedkiller, a combination of dicamba and glyphosate, is designed to address the problem.
Many health and environmental advocates, however, are worried that the company's new focus on dicamba will just put the world on another pesticide treadmill and create stronger weeds.
"Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides," said Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Dicamba was at the center of major controversy in the agricultural space last summer. Monsanto was criticized for selling its dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans to farmers for several growing seasons before gaining federal approval for the pesticide that goes along with it.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only approved the XtendiMax formulation in November. The EPA's delayed approval led to farmers illegally spraying older versions of highly volatile dicamba on their crops last summer, sparking a massive swath of complaints from farmers who saw crop damage from the herbicide drifting onto their fields.
Damage was reported across 10 states on a number of non-target crops such as peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans, the EPA said.
XtendiMax is said to be less drift-prone than older versions of dicamba. Monsanto has also given farmers specific instructions for its application. The company has high hopes for its new product, projecting that the XtendiMax system will be utilized on about 15 million soybean acres and 3 million cotton acres in 2017.
"Monsanto is committing to a nearly billion dollar Dicamba expansion where a new tool to fight invasive species/pests will be produced," Mike Strain, Louisiana's commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, said after the groundbreaking ceremony last week.
"This herbicide should greatly benefit our Ag producers. The expansion will also bring approximately 1000 construction jobs to St. Charles Parish and about 100 new direct jobs to the area."
The new facility in Luling is expected to be completed in 2019.
Wineries in Texas are worried that federal approval of two highly volatile and drift-prone herbicides used on neighboring genetically modified (GMO) cotton fields will cause widespread damage to their vineyards, The Texas Tribune details.
Dicamba damage on a grape leaves. Uky.edu
The herbicides in question are Monsanto's dicamba-based XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, which was approved in November by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Dow AgroSciences' 2,4-D-based Enlist Duo, which the EPA also proposed to register for use on GMO cotton seeds. Enlist Duo is already used on GMO corn and soybean crops in 15 states.
"The approval of these formulations will wind up affecting every vineyard up there," explained Paul Bonarrigo, a Hale County vintner who believes that his withering grapevines have been damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba and 2,4-D on nearby cotton farms. Bonarrigo believes that the state's $2 billion wine industry is in jeopardy.
The debacle is yet another chapter in the expanding issue of herbicide-resistant weeds, or superweeds, that have evolved to resist the herbicide glyphosate, or Roundup. In response to weeds such as pigweed that have infested farms across the U.S., agribusinesses such as Monsanto and Dow have developed ever stronger weedkillers to help farmers.
As noble as that might sound, Monsanto was especially criticized when it decided to sell its dicamba- and glyphosate-resistant soybean and cotton seeds to farmers before securing EPA approval for the herbicide designed to go along with it. Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced earlier this year.
Without having the proper herbicide, cotton and soy farmers resorted to spraying older versions of dicamba on their crops. But dicamba, as well as the herbicide 2,4-D, are extremely prone to drift, meaning the chemicals can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring fields that cannot withstand the chemical damage. When exposed to the herbicide, leaves on non-target plants are often left cupped and distorted.
Researchers from Ohio State University published a study in September showing that herbicide spray drift from the 2,4-D and dicamba can severely damage wine grape plants near agronomic crops.
Common leaf injury symptoms observed in vines 42 d after being treated with (a) glyphosate, (b) 2,4-D, (c) dicamba, and (d) nontreated controlOhio State University
Although Monsanto said it warned farmers against illegal dicamba spraying, this past summer, dicamba drift caused 10 states to report widespread damage on thousands of acres of non-target crops such as peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans.
Last month, Missouri's largest peach grower filed a lawsuit against Monsanto over claims that dicamba drift damaged more than 7,000 peach trees on the farm, amounting to $1.5 million in losses. This year, the farm said it lost more than 30,000 trees, with financial losses estimated in the millions.
Regulators assured to The Texas Tribune that the new pesticides are less likely to vaporize and drift, and the risk of damage will lessen if farmers follow safety precautions.
"I don't see this as being any more of an issue than what we have today," Steve Verett, executive vice president of the Plains Cotton Growers, told the publication. "I understand there are other sensitive crops as well. No matter what the product is or the farmer that's spraying, they need to make sure that the product they're spraying stays on their farm."
Kyel Richard, a spokesman for Monsanto, added that the company has conducted training exercises and education efforts to minimize "the opportunity for movement off- site and ensuring those herbicides are staying on target and controlling those weeds on the field that they're intended for."
State wineries, however, are worried that with the EPA's approval, use of dicamba and 2,4-D will expand to include 3.7 million acres of cotton fields.
"I could see it basically killing the [wine] industry, honestly," Garrett Irwin, owner of Cerro Santo vineyard in Lubbock County, countered. "If we get the levels of damage that I'm afraid we'll get, vineyards will not be able to recover or produce grapes at any sustainable level, and we're just going to have to go away."
Irwin also commented that cotton and soy farmers are likely to stick with old dicamba and 2,4-D herbicides because the new formulations are more expensive. Additionally, farmers have to upgrade their equipment with anti-drift nozzles to use the new products.
"I honestly don't think farmers will buy the new formulations when older labels that cost less are available and just as effective as the new labels," he said. "In short, I think farmers will buy generic chemicals without the additives to save money because the cotton won't know the difference."
And if they do buy the new herbicides, there will still be some farmers who "will do nothing to correct for negligence in spraying," Irwin said.
Pheasant Ridge Valley winery owner Bobby Cox told The Texas Tribune that he is worried that cotton farmers will have no choice but to switch to the new seeds system.
Cox said that 2,4-D drift in 2015 caused the amount of sugar in his grapes to be about 5 percent less than ideal.
"It will be catastrophic not only to vineyards but to oak trees, to pecan orchards, to shrubs," Cox said. "If they apply the amount of 2,4-D that they did Roundup and are equally irresponsible with that, it will kill everything green up here. I wish people would understand how important wine growing is for this area, how wonderful of a crop it is on the High Plains. It would be a shame to lose it when we're starting to get recognized."
Not only that, environmental experts worry about dicamba's threat on biodiversity and wonder if pesticide-makers are just creating another cycle of herbicide resistance.
"Once again the EPA is allowing for staggering increases in pesticide use that will undoubtedly harm our nation's most imperiled plants and animals," said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, after the EPA approved the Xtend weedkiller. "Iconic species like endangered whooping cranes are known to visit soybean fields, and now they'd be exposed to this toxic herbicide at levels they've never seen before."
"We can't spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill," he continued. "Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides. We can't fight evolution—it's a losing strategy."
Missouri's largest peach grower is suing Monsanto over claims that dicamba drift caused widespread damage to the farm's peach trees. This is Monsanto's first lawsuit over the illegal spraying of the herbicide on its genetically modified (GMO) cotton and soy that's suspected of causing extensive damage to non-target crops across America's farm belt.
Peach tree damaged by dicamba drift Kade McBroom
The lawsuit, Bader Farms, Inc., et al v. Monsanto Company, Case No. 16DU-CC00111, was filed in Dunklin County, Missouri on Nov. 23. Bill Bader of Bader Farms in Campbell, Missouri claims that more than 7,000 peach trees were damaged by the drift-prone and extremely volatile herbicide in 2015, amounting to $1.5 million in losses. This year, the farm said it lost more than 30,000 trees, with financial losses estimated in the millions.
The complaint accuses Monsanto of knowingly selling dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds to farmers before securing federal approval for the herbicide designed to go along with it. Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced earlier this year. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only
approved the corresponding herbicide, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, last month.
Even though the biotech company warned growers against illegal dicamba use on the crops, many farmers allegedly sprayed older versions of dicamba on the crops anyway to stop weeds. However, while Monsanto's crops are genetically engineered to tolerate sprays of dicamba, other crops cannot. And since dicamba is extremely prone to drift, it can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring fields, crops and native plants. In the fall, 10 states reported horrific damage on thousands of acres of peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans.
Bader said in August that 400-500 farmers in his region have been affected: "If they don't get compensation 60 percent will be out of business in two years."
"We need to go after Monsanto. These farmers are being hung out to dry," Bader added.
Bader's lawsuit alleges that Monsanto chose to sell its Xtend cotton and soybean seeds knowing that such destructive spraying would be inevitable.
"Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated," Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber, the Kansas City, Missouri law firm representing Bader Farms, said in a statement. "We believe it is against Monsanto's own practice, not to mention industry standards, to release a seed without a corresponding herbicide to protect the crop from destruction. But Monsanto chose greed over public safety and made farms in Southeast Missouri and Northeast Arkansas unwilling test labs for their defective seed system."
The law firm expects similar lawsuits to follow. "Our firm continues to be contacted to help farmers who have been harmed by Monsanto's actions," Randles said. "They are folks who have supported Monsanto by purchasing their products for years, only to have been betrayed in the end. We expect more farmers to file suit in the coming weeks."
In response, Monsanto said that the responsibility lies with the growers who illegally applied dicamba.
"Both prior to and throughout the 2016 season, Monsanto took many steps to remind growers, dealers and applicators that dicamba was not approved for in-crop use at the time, and we do not condone the illegal use of any pesticide," the company said in a statement to Brownfield. "While we sympathize with those who have been impacted by farmers who chose to apply dicamba illegally, this lawsuit attempts to shift responsibility away from individuals who knowingly and intentionally broke state and federal law and harmed their neighbors in the process. Responsibility for these actions belongs to those individuals alone. We will defend ourselves accordingly."
Monsanto developed its Xtend system to address "superweeds" that have grown resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in the company's former bread-and-butter, Roundup. The firm expects to see 15 million Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean acres and more than 3 million acres of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton in 2017. According to AgWeb, the technology is also licensed to more than 100 additional brands. The company has invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the demand it predicts.
Critics, however, are worried about the herbicide's potential threat to biodiversity, that it forces growers to switch to the Xtend system and that it only creates another round of superweeds. Dicamba-resistant weeds have already been found in Kansas and Nebraska.
"We can't spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill," Dr. Nathan Donley with the Center for Biological Diversity said. "Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides. We can't fight evolution—it's a losing strategy."
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally approved over-the-top use of Monsanto's dicamba-based herbicide XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans that have already been on the market for several growing seasons.
Cucumber plant injured by dicamba driftUniversity of Arkansas
This means that farmers will no longer have to illegally spray their genetically modified (GMO) cotton and soy with older versions of an extremely volatile and drift-prone herbicide. Over the summer, such activities caused 10 states to report widespread damage on thousands of acres of non-target crops such as peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, cotton, peas, peanuts, alfalfa and soybeans. And last month, a dicamba drift dispute between Arkansas farmers resulted in one farmer being shot to death.
Although Monsanto said it warned farmers against illegal dicamba spraying, the company was sharply criticized for selling its latest batch of GMO seeds before securing EPA approval for the herbicide designed to go along with it. Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton was introduced in 2015 and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans was introduced earlier this year.
"We need to go after Monsanto. These farmers are being hung out to dry," said Bill Bader, owner of Bader Peaches, Missouri's largest peach producer, who estimated a loss of 30,000 trees.
University of Arkansas weed specialist Bob Scott said in an interview with National Public Radio, "This is a unique situation that Monsanto created."
Ryan Rubischko, who heads Monsanto's North America dicamba portfolio, said the company's new XtendiMax weedkiller reduces "volatility potential compared to dicamba formulations currently on the market today."
Monsanto spokesperson Kyel Richard told the St. Louis Dispatch that the product still needs approval from individual states before the product hits the shelves but still expects it to roll out by 2017.
Some growers have already expressed that they have no choice but to switch to the new Xtend system, as the St. Louis Dispatch writes:
"With or without approval of the new herbicide, affected farmers have indicated they will be forced to switch to dicamba-resistant varieties as an insurance policy for future growing seasons. Some also question whether the release of the new, less-volatile variety will put an end to damage from drift, as scofflaw farmers may still be inclined to use off-label varieties if they are a cheaper alternative."
Weed experts are also concerned that the new product has very specific application instructions and are unclear about its chemical makeup. According to DTN:
"University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager told DTN that his biggest concern is that spray applicators understand that herbicide volatility and physical drift are different. 'The need to carefully follow label directions and keep this product physically on-target will be critical and require a lot of attention to detail both during application and clean out of sprayers,' Hager said.
"'It doesn't take much of dicamba to cause damage to sensitive crops and we have a lot of sensitive crops to consider. Having a reduced-volatility formulation does not eliminate physical drift,' he added.
"XtendiMax herbicide is a diglycolamine (DGA) salt—the same salt used in Clarity herbicide. Monsanto has told DTN in past correspondence that it is the VaporGrip additive that prevents the formation of dicamba acid and lowers volatility, based on company tests. However, university weed scientists have complained that they've not been allowed to test the new formulations to compare to older products such as Banvel and Clarity."
Environmentalists also worry about dicamba's threat on biodiversity.
"Once again the EPA is allowing for staggering increases in pesticide use that will undoubtedly harm our nation's most imperiled plants and animals," said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Iconic species like endangered whooping cranes are known to visit soybean fields, and now they'd be exposed to this toxic herbicide at levels they've never seen before."
Another issue is that Monsanto is creating another cycle of herbicide resistance. Monsanto developed its Xtend system to address "superweeds" that have grown resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's former bread-and-butter, Roundup.
"We can't spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill," said Donley. "Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides. We can't fight evolution—it's a losing strategy."
The Center for Biological Diversity said the new EPA decision will open the door for dicamba use to jump from less than 1 million pounds to more than 25 million annually on these two crops.
Ronnie Citron-Fink of Moms Clean Air Force told EcoWatch she is worried about the health impacts of increased pesticide use.
"We worry about pesticide exposure because children are more susceptible to chemicals through the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the water they drink. This is especially true in communities where homes, schools, and playgrounds are in close proximity to pesticide use," Citron-Fink said.
Monsanto expects to see 15 million Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean acres and more than 3 million acres of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton in 2017. According to AgWeb, the technology is also licensed to more than 100 additional brands. The company has invested more than $1 billion in a dicamba production facility in Luling, Louisiana, to meet the demand it predicts.
The EPA has registered the XtendiMax formula for use on dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton for sale and use in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.