Dicamba is a highly volatile herbicide with a propensity to drift or volatize onto off-site locations. Dicamba’s brand names include Banvel, Diablo, Oracle, Vanquish, XtendiMax (a newer formulation made by Monsanto) and Engenia (a newer formulation made by BASF). According to the National Pesticide Information Center, more than 1,100 herbicide products contain dicamba.

More than 1,100 herbicide products contain dicamba.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Monsanto-made, dicamba-resistant crops, which prompted some farmers to spray the herbicide on crops—a use for which dicamba is not approved. Some of these dicamba products then became airborne and drifted onto other farmers’ properties, causing tremendous damage to their crops.

Now some farmers are filing dicamba lawsuits to hold the responsible parties accountable.

A Brief History of Dicamba

Due to its volatility, until recently dicamba had not been approved for use on crops. Monsanto’s Roundup has been the pesticide of choice for on-crop applications for several decades—approximately 90 percent of all U.S. soy, cotton, and corn are glyphosate-resistant genetically modified (GMO) crops.

More than two-thirds of all the farm acres in America now harbor glyphosate-resistant super weeds.

The widespread use of Roundup over many growing seasons has resulted in natural selection of weeds that are resistant to glyphosate’s toxicity. These so-called “super weeds” have spread across the United States and pose a significant challenge to existing agricultural models.

Sixty-one million farm acres—more than two-thirds of all the farm acres in America—now harbor glyphosate-resistant super weeds. In 2010, that number was just 32.6 million acres.

To address this issue, Monsanto invented new GMO crops that are resistant to both Roundup and dicamba. These crops were introduced to the market during the 2016 growing season, before any dicamba formulation received approval for on-crop applications. This led to widespread illegal spraying of older dicamba formulations.

The resulting drift led to massive crop damages. More than 200,000 acres in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee were damaged by dicamba last year.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) approval of dicamba for on-crop use was contingent on reformulating the herbicide to eliminate its volatility and propensity to drift. A new formulation of dicamba made by Monsanto (called XttendiMax) was approved in November 2016, and a second formulation made by German chemical company BASF (called Engenia) was approved in December 2016.

These new dicamba formulations were supposed to be safer and less prone to drift than older versions. But if that’s the case, why have farmers already filed so many misuse complaints so early in the 2017 growing season?

Dicamba Misuse Complaints Piling Up in 2017

If the newly approved dicamba formulations had succeeded in reducing drift and volatility, we would not see widespread damages to dicamba-vulnerable crops in 2017.

But that’s not the case. Though it is early in the 2017 growing season, farmers have already filed more than 500 complaints in Arkansas this year. These complaints are associated with the BASF-made dicamba formulation, Engenia, which is the only dicamba product approved for on-crop application in Arkansas.

“Drift that might normally have gone 50 or 60 yards with one product is, with dicamba, affecting an entire field.”

In total, Arkansas farmers have filed 135 such complaints. In 2016 there were around 200 misuse complaints filed in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Bob Scott, a weed specialist at the University of Arkansas, tells Delta Farm Press, “On the number of complaints, the region seems to be a little ahead of where we were last year… There’s another percentage of the drift complaints that are hard to understand—how did the product move so far? It’s what we’ve worried about all along: it takes such a very, very small amount to ‘cup up’ a soybean crop.”

Mr. Scott adds, “Drift that might normally have gone 50 or 60 yards with one product is, with dicamba, affecting an entire field. I think that just points to high sensitivity in (non-tolerant) soybeans.”

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If these issues persist, farmers could suffer significant crop damage across vast acreages. Last year, dicamba-resistant crops were planted on one million acres of American farmland. This year, dicamba-resistant crops will be planted on 15-18 million acres.

If the new dicamba formulations cannot deliver their touted benefits, the livelihoods of countless farmers nationwide could be at risk.

This is such a grave threat that the Arkansas Agriculture Department’s State Plant board voted on June 20 to adopt an emergency rule severely restricting the use of dicamba. Tennessee has also restricted dicamba use to prevent drift damage.

Farmers File Dicamba Lawsuits

While local authorities have leveled some fines against farmers who misuse dicamba, until recently these fines were between $200 and $1,000—a meager number that pales in comparison to the damage done by dicamba drift. According to Modern Farmer, farmers impacted by dicamba drift will lose an estimated 10 to 30 percent of their annual crop yield.

Because these fines are so minimal, and because Monsanto and BASF are unlikely to face criminal charges, many farmers in Arkansas and neighboring states have filed lawsuits against Monsanto and BASF seeking restitution for the damage done to their crops.

For more information on dicamba lawsuits, visit our Dicamba Lawsuit page. If you are a commercial farmer who has suffered damages from dicamba drift in 2017, contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.