New Season of Dicamba Drift Set to Damage Crops

By | February 19, 2020

Monsanto, DuPont and BASF sell an herbicide responsible for damage to millions of acres across the U.S. As described in this short video, the damage is substantial and many insurance companies are balking at paying compensation for farmers’ losses.

There are 221 different pesticides found in your produce, according to a report1 generated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The report released in September 2018 was based on data gathered in 2017.

Samples were taken from five states across America and only 37.5% of the vegetables and a mere 14.2% of the fruits were free of pesticide residues.

Glyphosate and 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) residues were also detected in some of the samples. Concerns over glyphosate’s toxicity have been mounting since the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) 20152 determination that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

Since the introduction of genetically modified plants, the problems with pesticide-resistant weeds has grown. Worldwide, at least 48 different weeds3 are resistant to glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup. In response, agrichemical companies are producing even more toxic pesticides.

In November 2016, Monsanto announced4 it had secured approval from the FDA to use specially formulated dicamba, VaporGrip, on growing crops; in the past it had only been used before planting. The claim was that using VaporGrip Technology “gives you extended application flexibility before, at and after planting.”5

Dicamba Drift Destroying Crops As EPA Looks On

It took only one growing season to prove the claim that VaporGrip didn’t drift wasn’t true. In July 2017 a complaint advisory from the EPA was published in which they wrote:6

“Despite the conditional approval of new dicamba products with drift reduction agents and further use restrictions set in place prior to the 2017 growing season, some states are reporting high numbers of dicamba complaints.

By early July, we already had reports of hundreds of complaints received by state agencies in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee (a significant increase from last year). Both physical drift and volatilization of dicamba from the target application site have been reported.”

The immediate response approved by the EPA was a change to the label so that consumers were instructed to use the product differently than when it was first released.7 But changing how it was applied didn’t stop the numerous complaints in the coming crop seasons. Every summer since the release of the new dicamba formulation, the phones have been ringing.

NPR reports8 the Office of the Indiana State Chemist has been overwhelmed by the complaints from farmers and homeowners reporting damage to crops and gardens. With each test of the damaged plants, the scientists found the same culprit: It was dicamba.

The herbicide is designed to be used on dicamba-tolerant seed and the new delivery system is intended to stop the potential for drift. But, as you likely guessed, the delivery system for this dangerous toxin failed.

For farmers who plant dicamba-tolerant GMO seed, the herbicide kills weeds that are resistant to glyphosate without hurting their crops. For those who don’t use dicamba-tolerant seed, it’s described as a plague.9 One farmer reported the drift affected 80 acres of his farm, which cut the harvest in those fields by one-third.

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Illinois growers lodged about six times as many complaints in 2019 as they did prior to the widespread adoption of dicamba. Despite the rising number of problems suffered by farmers and homeowners, the EPA extended approval just before the 2019 season. The decision apparently rested on the hope more education and restrictions on the application process would stop the problem.

Sinister Practices May Force Farmers to Buy Bayer Seed

The issue has gotten so heated that farmers see their neighbors as threats and one dispute ended in death. Millions of acres of crops were damaged when the herbicide traveled beyond their application sites. You probably could have predicted a sprayed application would land in another field, but the EPA and FDA could not.

On hot summer days the technology falls short. Instead of sticking to the area, the chemical quickly evaporates and drifts into nearby fields and gardens.10 Could this be the ultimate plan — releasing an herbicide that requires you to purchase their seed in order to successfully harvest your crop? It seems Monsanto is playing the long game.

The challenge of stopping herbicide from drifting with the wind has created a problem for inspectors: It’s difficult to figure out where it originated. The additional workload means they don’t have time for routine inspections. Leo Reed, an Indiana official, calls this “dicamba fatigue.”11

Another telltale sign of fatigue and overworked has been the marked exodus of Missouri’s pesticide inspectors. There were eight, but seven resigned over the course of one-and-a-half years. According to meeting minutes, contributing factors were overload and burnout.

Peach Farmer Stands Up to Agribusiness; Outs Marketing Ploy

Monsanto claims the crop damage is the result of poor application, weather and other pesticides. But in a lawsuit Bill Bader of Bader Farms in Missouri accused Monsanto (now Bayer, since Bayer bought them out) of creating the circumstances for the drift damage.

Bader’s family-owned business is close to shutting down, even though at one time it was the largest of all peach farms in the state.

In response, Monsanto/Bayer claimed the problems on the Bader Farm were the result of such things as user errors and weather, and not dicamba. Odessa Hines, spokesperson for BASF, also named in the lawsuit, said the company’s12 “ … products meet all regulatory standards, including rigorous safety and environmental testing. We look forward to defending our product in this case.”

Despite their confidence, on the first day of the trial Internal documents showed the companies knew about the herbicide’s potential to cause damage to surrounding crops. They also prepared for complaints that might have come in before the crop system had even been released.13

During opening arguments, Bader’s attorney said the farm’s financial situation was “entirely foreseen and foreseeable” based on documentation from Monsanto and BASF. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting:14

“The lawsuit alleges that the companies released the dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds and accompanying herbicides knowing that it would likely drift and damage non-tolerant seeds in order to make farmers buy the companies’ systems.”

Bader asked for $ 20.9 million in damages and punitive damages from Monsanto and BASF, which originally developed dicamba in the 1950s. Bader’s attorney said,15 “The experiment, we will show, has been a failure.” 

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After hearing three weeks of testimony, the jury awarded Bader $ 15 million in damages on February 14, 2020,16 and the next day added another $ 250 million in punitive damages to the award. As reported by Investigate Midwest:

“Bader Farms is among thousands of farms, comprising millions of acres of crops, that have alleged dicamba damage since 2015. ’It sends a strong message,’ said Bev Randles, an attorney for Bader Farms.

‘The Baders were doing this, not just because of themselves or for themselves, but they felt like it was necessary because of what it means to farmers everywhere. This was just wrong.’

The lawsuit is the first of hundreds filed by farmers to go to trial. Bader’s lawsuit was independent of the outcome of a pending class-action lawsuit. Bayer said in a statement that they are disappointed with the verdict, and Bader’s losses were not their fault. Bayer said it will appeal the decision.”

Dicamba Kills More Than Crops

The environmental and financial consequences of using dicamba continue to rise. In 2017, Reuters17 reported Monsanto was giving cash to farmers to offset the cost of using dicamba. The incentive was designed to entice farmers, who were facing the additional costs of more training, to use the herbicide.

This was only one decision that dealt a major blow to the environment. Dicamba also impacts bees and other pollinators with a cascading effect on vegetation and crops. Paradoxically, NPR reports that one farmer decided the solution was not to stop using dicamba but, rather, for ALL farmers to begin using it.

Once all farmers are planting dicamba-tolerant seed, he said, it will lower crop damage.18 However, as NPR noted:

“That might reduce the damage to crops, but the resulting free-fire zone for dicamba could be bad news for other vegetation, such as wildflowers and trees. The wider ecological impact of dicamba drift received little attention at first.

Richard Coy, whose family-run company manages 13,000 beehives in Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri, was one of the few people who noticed it. ‘If I were not a beekeeper, I would pay no attention to the vegetation in the ditches and the fence rows,’ he says. But his bees feed on that vegetation.”

Spraying more herbicides and pesticides damages the same insect species that crops need to propagate. This possibly could have been picked up in testing before the release of the new VaporGrip technology, but Monsanto had expressly forbade independent tests. This was an out-of-the-ordinary decision because, commonly, when a new pesticide is developed, a company commissions tests and shares the chemical with universities.

Regulators and researchers then assess the safety and effectiveness of the chemical. In tests before the release of XtendiMax with VaporGrip, Monsanto forbade university researchers to test for vaporization and drift potential.

Reuters reported Monsanto defended the decision saying it was unnecessary as it was19 “less volatile than a previous dicamba formula that researchers found could be used safely.”

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As if damage to the environment, the food supply chain and financial manipulation were not enough, consider the impact herbicides have on antibiotic resistance, “one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.”20

Research evidence21 shows the application of dicamba and glyphosate — even below recommended levels — triggers antibiotic resistance up to 100,000 times faster when bacteria are exposed in the environment. In a news release from the University of Canterbury, one of the researchers commented:22

“The combination of chemicals to which bacteria are exposed in the modern environment should be addressed alongside antibiotic use if we are to preserve antibiotics in the long-term.”

Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides

You cannot solely depend on others to protect your health. Instead, if falls to each of us to practice preventive strategies to reduce the toxins that assault our bodies. Here are some ideas for reducing your exposure to pesticides and other toxins and start on the right path:

Purchase organic produce and grass fed (American Grass Fed Certified) meat — Animal products like meat, butter, milk and eggs are the most important to buy organic and grass fed, since animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins from their pesticide-laced feed, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables.

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of environmental chemicals, including pesticides, so try to buy organic for produce that may have an elevated pesticide load, such as strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples and peaches. If you eat the skin of the produce it’s best to try to buy organic.

Wash all produce before eating — Washing all produce before eating helps to reduce your exposure to bacteria and pesticides. Both may also be transferred to melons, oranges and other fruits you peel if the rind is not first washed. While there are commercial preparations, the safest products are white vinegar with a splash of lemon.

The acidity helps to kill the bacteria, and friction from a vegetable brush helps to reduce the number of chemicals clinging to the produce. Dry your produce with a paper towel as an extra measure of removing pesticides so they don’t dry to the produce. Remove the exterior leaves of leafy vegetables.

Eat whole foods — Remember that processed foods are in fact processed with a variety of chemicals, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. Children already diagnosed with ADHD, autism or seizure disorders in most cases have reduced symptoms when processed foods are completely eliminated.

Leave your shoes at the door — Walking across lawns and treated gardens deposits pesticides and other toxic chemicals in your carpet and on your flooring. Pets and small children crawling across the floor have the greatest potential for absorbing these chemicals. However, when you eventually take your shoes off at the end of the day, you may also absorb chemicals through the bottoms of your bare feet.