Monsanto has had a bad run lately. First it was Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer being found responsible for causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in some workers and consumers, including a record-breaking $289 million verdict against Monsanto in California.
Next, it was the alarming discovery that glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – in our food and water can cause many serious health problems, including autism, birth defects, brain cancer, breast cancer, colitis and chronic kidney disease.
Now another Monsanto product is wreaking havoc in the fields of Arkansas and devastating farmers’ bottom lines. In the tiny town of Poplar Grove in eastern Arkansas Terry Fuller and his twin brother Jerry Fuller grow soybeans and raise cattle. A major part of their farming business is selling seeds to farmers. One of those products is soybean seeds that are dicamba-tolerant.
Dicamba is an ingredient in several Monsanto weed control products. It kills broadleaf plants, including many weeds and even soybeans. But these soybeans’ genes were tweaked by Monsanto so that dicamba has no effect on them. This means farmers can plant these special soybean seeds on their fields, spray dicamba and the weeds die but the soybean plants grow normally.
When Fuller first heard about this new form of Monsanto soybeans that was tolerant of dicamba, he wanted to use the chemical all over Arkansas. Farmers started to spray the dicamba on their fields in summer 2018. It worked wonderfully. But a serious problem unfolded when the weather turned hot. The weed killer did not stay where it should have. The herbicide seemed to evaporate and drift onto other crops in the area that cannot tolerate it. This caused those crops to stunt and to develop curled leaves.
Drifting dicamba devastated millions of acres of crops from Mississippi to Minnesota, including other varieties of soybeans, tomatoes, melons and fruit orchards. One estimate by university weed scientists indicated that more than one million acres of soybeans were injured as of July 15, 2018 by the pesticide. Several state departments of agriculture reported they were investigating 600 cases of dicamba-related crop damage.
It was a Monsanto-inspired disaster.
Arkansas State Plant Board Steps In
Fortunately, Terry Fuller had the power to put a stop to it – in Arkansas at least. He belongs to the Arkansas State Plant Board, which regulates seeds and pesticides in the state. Fuller noted that even trees in his yard showed negative effects of dicamba exposure.
The board, after heated discussions, decided that dicamba could not be controlled properly in hot weather. It banned spraying the herbicide during the growing season from April 15 through October. These are the harshest restrictions in the nation.
Monsanto argued that the herbicide could be safely used. It claimed that the problems in 2017 were due to mistakes in product application. Dicamba is known to be extremely volatile as it can vaporize after it is applied. Wind and temperature inversions can carry it miles away. Volatilization is affected by pH, the nozzles used to apply it, the boom height over the crop, humidity, temperature and wind.
After the board made its ruling, Fuller and the other board members were attacked from every side. Monsanto filed suit against the board and every member of it. The company said the ruling was arbitrary, unlawful and capricious. Hundreds of farmers who claimed they need dicamba to control wees signed a petition demanding the board reconsider.
Six farmers also filed suit. They argued the makeup of the board is in violation of the Arkansas Constitution; some of the members were selected by industries that the board regulates.
Now some farmers want a compromise: They want the board to let them spray dicamba during the first part of the growing season until May 25. This is when the weather is cooler and the herbicide is less likely to drift.
Farmers wanted the eased regulations maintain that dicamba is essential to help them keep their fields producing at capacity and free of weeds.
Fuller notes that the conversations about the subject with customers and neighbors have been generally civil, but still, some people are angry at how the Monsanto herbicide has affected their livelihoods.
- Monsanto’s Dicamba Crisis Guilty as Charged. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.panna.org/blog/monsantos-dicamba-crisis-guilty-charged
- These Citizen Regulators in Arkansas Defied Monsanto – Now They’re Under Attack. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/02/14/584647903/these-citizen-regulators-in-arkansas-defied-monsanto-now-theyre-under-attack
- Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial Verdict. (2018). Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2018/08/11/monsanto-roundup-cancer-trial-verdict/
- 15 Health Problems Linked to Monsanto’s Roundup. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ecowatch.com/15-health-problems-linked-to-monsantos-roundup-1882002128.html
- Lessons Learned in 2017 Monsanto Dicamba Herbicide Fiasco. (2017). Retrieved from https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2018/01/25/lessons-learned-2017-monsanto-dicamba-herbicide-fiasco/