Bayer and BASF Pushing to Keep Dicamba on the Market

Jacob Bunge reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Chemical makers Bayer and BASF are pushing to keep a controversial weedkiller on the market after a federal court in June blocked its use in U.S. soybean and cotton fields.

“The companies are seeking approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency that would allow farmers to continue spraying dicamba, a herbicide that can kill hardy weeds but has been blamed for drifting off fields and damaging millions of acres of neighboring crops. Bayer and BASF are proposing that farmers mix the weedkiller with new chemical agents that company officials said would help dicamba stay where it is sprayed.

“EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency’s scientists are still reviewing the companies’ dicamba-based crop sprays. ‘We intend to have a decision made by the middle of October,’ he said during an Oct. 1 presentation to the Minnesota Farm Bureau.”

The Journal article noted that, “Bayer and BASF developed their dicamba herbicides and related biotech soybean and cotton seeds as a solution for weeds like palmer amaranth and marestail that evolved to resist other widely used herbicides, including Bayer’s Roundup.

“Farmers’ war against hard-to-kill weeds can push up their cost of raising a crop, and lift prices for food makers, livestock producers and consumers. Herbicide-resistant weeds can also threaten parks and natural lands.

Some farmers and homeowners, however, have blamed dicamba for evaporating off fields and traveling onto nearby fields and gardens, shriveling plants and cutting into crop production. State agriculture departments in the 20 largest soybean-producing states have received about 915 complaints of dicamba-related damage so far this year. That figure compares with about 1,560 in 2019 but remains above the 257 complaints lodged in 2016, the first year the dicamba-tolerant seeds were sold, according to state agriculture departments.”

Mr. Bunge added that, “In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the EPA, when approving the companies’ herbicides in 2018, failed to acknowledge the risks of the herbicides. The ruling revoked the agency’s approval of the herbicides’ use on related biotech crops. That approval was already set to expire by year’s end.

“The court’s decision had limited effect on farmers this year because by mid-June many were done spraying dicamba for the season. An EPA spokesman said the agency will factor the ruling into its consideration of any new dicamba approvals, which are needed for farmers to be able to spray crops next year.

“Bayer is asking the agency to consider reapproving its dicamba spray along with an additional chemical agent that the company says can keep the herbicide from moving. The additive, called an adjuvant, prevents the formation of dicamba acid, which can evaporate off of plants and drift on the wind.”

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