According to data collected and compiled by UM professor Kevin Bradley, damage to soybean crops due to the “off-target” movement of dicamba now affects 21 states across the Midwest, from North Dakota to Georgia.
Meanwhile, new formulations of dicamba were released this year specifically for use with cotton and soy crops that had been genetically engineered to tolerate it. The new products are reported to be less prone to off-target drift and evaporation – but the latest instructions from Monsanto are difficult to understand, leaving farmers confused as to how to use dicamba “safely.”
Dicamba, which has been around for fifty years and more, was developed by Monsanto, and is an ingredient in herbicides sold by the German company BASF and US-based DuPont. Under certain conditions, dicamba vaporizes and drifts into other fields, injuring and destroying crops that have not been genetically engineered to resist it. In order to assist farmers in avoiding this problem, Monsanto has provided a set of instructions that is 4,550 words long.
The label, which has undergone EPA review and approval, is specifically applicable to Monsanto’s “XtendimaxTM with VaporGrip Technology.” It instructs farmers to use the product on its latest genetically-engineered soy crops only when the wind speed is between 3 and 15 miles per hour – no more, no less. The products must be sprayed from a height of no more than two feet above the crops; and when the temperature exceeds 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the sprayer must be adjusted so as to produce larger droplets of the product. Once finished, the spraying equipment must be thoroughly rinsed no fewer than three times.
And that’s just for starters. Weed specialist Bob Hartzler, who teaches agronomy at Iowa State University, is baffled. “The restrictions on these labels is unlike anything that’s ever been seen before,” he says. One farmer from Delaware decided to give up on Monsanto’s Xtend soybeans altogether because of the difficulty in following the company’s direction. He said, “The clean-out procedure that you have to go through to ensure that you don’t have any residue remaining in the applicator equipment is quite onerous.”
Monsanto, on the other hand, claims that the instructions are “detailed” – but are easily followed. Monsanto’s vice-president of strategy, Scott Partridge, says the label “uses very simple words and terms…they are not complex in a fashion that inhibits the ability of making a correct application.” So far, BASF and DuPont have had nothing to say on the issue.
The other problem, which has been entered into evidence in a lawsuit filed against Monsanto, BASF and DuPont, is that following these instructions is virtually impossible to do. For example, the restrictions on wind speed do not allow farmers to spray over the top of their soybean plants in a timely manner. Another example: the temperature requirements. Monsanto’s instructions tell farmers not to spray during a temperature inversion, conditions when atmospheric stability may make drift more likely. One farmer whose crops suffered damage from dicamba, said, “You have to be a meteorologist to get it exactly right.”
According to the current complaint, the companies that now sell dicamba failed “to inform the EPA that their label instructions were unrealistic.”