New York Times Explores Dicamba Issues

Danny Hakim reported yesterday at the New York Times Online that, “Farmers planted a new kind of seed on 25 million acres of soybean and cotton fields this year. Developed by Monsanto, the seeds, genetically modified to be resistant to a weed killer called dicamba, are one of the biggest product releases in the company’s history.

“But the seeds and the weed killer have turned some farmers — often customers of Monsanto, which sells both — against the company and alarmed regulators.

“Farmers who have not bought the expensive new seeds, which started to appear last year, are joining lawsuits, claiming that their crops have been damaged by dicamba that drifted onto their farms. Arkansas announced a 120-day ban of the weed killer this summer, and it is considering barring its use next year after mid-April. Missouri briefly barred its sale in July. And the Environmental Protection Agency, not known for its aggressiveness under President Trump, is weighing its own action.”

The Times article noted that, “Monsanto formally challenged Arkansas’ ban earlier this month, insisting that 99 percent of its customers were satisfied. It plans to double the use of its new dicamba-resistant soybeans seeds to 40 million acres by next year.”

Mr. Hakim explained that, “Because genetically modified crops allow dicamba to be sprayed later in the year, after crops emerge from the ground, and in hotter and more humid weather, the chemical is susceptible to what is known as ‘volatility’ — it can turn into a gas and drift onto whatever happens to be nearby.

“While Monsanto and BASF modified the new versions of the herbicide they are selling, they have not entirely solved the problem. So much dicamba is being used that even a small percentage of drift can cause widespread damage.”

The New York Times article added that, “Monsanto has put the onus on farmers. In a letter to Arkansas’ governor last week, a top company executive said problems were “all readily correctable through additional training, education and enforcement.” The company has already trained about 50,000 people to apply the weed killer properly.

“The instructions are quite complex, discouraging spraying both when it is too windy or when it is not windy enough. Some farmers are chafing at the company’s approach.”

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