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article imageAdvanced weed-killer damages over 2.5 million acres of farmland

By Karen Graham     Aug 2, 2017 in Environment
Pesticide "drifting" has hit U.S. farmers with a vengeance this year, affecting more than 16 states and over 2.5 million acres of crops as of mid-July. The economic losses nationally and to farmers, themselves could be devastating.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Tuesday they were reviewing its directions on how to use the latest version of an advanced weed-killer known as Dicamba.
"We are reviewing the current use restrictions on the labels for these dicamba formulations in light of the incidents that have been reported this year," EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said in an email, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Dicamba is an organochloride and a derivative of benzoic acid. The chemical mimics the effects of natural plant hormones, causing an aberrant growth rate, killing the plant. Dicamba was first used in the U.S. in 1967. The chemical is sold under various brand names by Monsanto, BASF, and DuPont.
United Soybean Board photo of Palmer amaranth  also known as pigweed  infesting a soybean field.
United Soybean Board photo of Palmer amaranth, also known as pigweed, infesting a soybean field.
Union of Concerned Scientists
The root of the Dicamba problem
Originally, Dicamba was approved by the EPA to be used on fields before they were planted. And this is the way it was done for a long time. However, in November 2016, the EPA gave its approval for the use of Monsanto's dicamba-based herbicide XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology for use on Dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans.
The new Dicamba was also supposed to address the growing problem of "drifting," where the vapors from spraying the herbicide drift through the air onto crops not engineered to withstand the deadly chemical.
And while the technology and innovations in creating crops that are resistant to weeds and pests are constantly evolving as science searches for ways to increase crop output and eradicate crop-killing pests, there is a fine line that sometimes is encroached upon, leaving us to figure out what went wrong.
Dicamba use has already resulted in the growth of "superweeds," and Monsanto's work in developing the new VaporGrip technology was supposed to take care of the superweed problem. This meant that farmers wouldn't need to illegally spray their genetically modified (GMO) cotton and soybeans with older versions of the Dicamba, which had proven to be very prone to drifting.
Perhaps things may have worked out if everyone used the new and improved weed-killer on their GMO crops, but not all farmers are planting soy beans and cotton bioengineered to survive the chemical. Farmers planted 20 million acres of dicamba-resistant soybeans and 5 million acres of cotton this year, according to Monsanto, and they blame the current drift problem on farmers using illegal, off-label products instead of the new formulation,
The effects of Dicamba drift on grape vines.
The effects of Dicamba drift on grape vines.
University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service
The new technology results in bans and lawsuits
Reuters reported on Wednesday that governments in 17 states are investigating over 1,400 complaints of Dicamba problems covering over 2.5 million acres. The situation is so bad that a number of states, including Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee have banned the use of the chemical or at least restricted it use during certain parts of the year.
Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Monsanto, in a telephone interview with the Insurance Journal, says, “There’s always a few challenges in launching new technology." But, that being said, we won't know the full extent of the damages to state economies or to the incomes of individual farmers until the growing season is over.
More about dicamba, Gmos, 25 million acres, Technology, Chemicals
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