Many farmers planted a new type of seed this year. More than 25 million acres of soybean and cotton fields were planted with seeds developed by Monsanto that are genetically modified to be resistant to a weed killer called dicamba. The seeds are one of the biggest product releases in the Monsanto’s history. However, the seeds and the weed killer have caused problems for some farmers who are in many cases customers of Monsanto, which sells both.
Last year, some farmers who haven’t purchased the expensive new seeds, brought actions against Monsanto, claiming that their crops have been damaged by dicamba that drifted onto their farms.
In Arkansas, the state agriculture department announced a 120-day ban on the sale and use of dicamba beginning in July 2017. The state is further considering barring its use next year after mid-April. At the same time, the Missouri Director of Agriculture also briefly barred its sale and use. And South Dakota opened its investigation into dicamba drift in August after its Department of Agriculture recorded nearly 200 complaints of dicamba damage and logged roughly 60,000 acres of affected farmland.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also considering further regulation. In a statement, the agency said, “This is still an ongoing investigation and we cannot speculate on what the underlying causes of damage may be.”
Genetically Modified Crops
Genetically modified crops started in the mid-1990s and made it possible to spray weed killers like Monsanto’s Roundup® on plants after they emerged from the ground. The chemical got rid of fields of weeds but left the crops undamaged. However, over time, weeds are becoming more resistant to the pesticide; as a result, the industry has developed seeds that are tolerant to more herbicides. Environmentalists and scientists have expressed concerns that making seeds resistant to more weed killers will increase the use of pesticides.
Dicamba kills weeds and is effective on those no longer responsive to Roundup. However, some farmers must face the difficult decision of either using the new genetically modified seeds or risk that their soybeans will be damaged more by a neighboring farmer’s spraying of weed killers than by the weeds themselves.
The cost of the damaged crops won’t be known until after harvest.
Genetically modified crops allow dicamba to be sprayed after crops emerge from the ground, and in hotter and more humid weather. Because of this, it’s susceptible to “volatility,” meaning that it can turn into a gas and drift onto nearby land.
Monsanto and BASF have modified the new versions of the herbicide they’re selling, but this hasn’t totally solved the problem. There’s so much dicamba that is being used in agriculture that even a bit of drift can cause widespread damage.
Monsanto said the problems were “all readily correctable through additional training, education, and enforcement.” But the instructions are complex, discouraging spraying when it’s either too windy or not windy enough, frustrating many farmers and causing others to sue.
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