What used to be called “The Green Revolution” has, over the past 50 years, radically improved crop yields and lowered farmers’ costs by marrying seeds and herbicides. Agri-industrial giants like Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and BASF genetically engineered seeds that could survive herbicides like glyphosate that killed all the weeds around them.
Soon glyphosate, branded by Monsanto as Roundup, was the best-selling weed-killer in the world, protecting industrial crops like soybeans and cotton, wheat and corn. But those damn weeds are smart, or at least adaptable and soon, many weeds had adapted to Roundup and could outlast it and reduce soybean crop yields.
So, Monsanto and their other manufacturers replaced glyphosate with an older chemical, dicamba, which, with its own uniquely compatible seeds produced crop yields like those from Roundup.
But dicamba was crucially different from glyphosate, which tended to stick around the croplands of soy and cotton on which it had been sprayed. Dicamba was more volatile, which means it might have been sprayed on as a liquid, but some of it vaporized into a gas, and traveled.
And as dicamba moved, it came into contact with soybeans whose seeds did not protect them, and it killed or damaged crops. Just over the past three years, thousands of farmers have filed suit, claiming millions of acres have been affected by Dicamba migration.
In one significant case, Bill Bader, the biggest peach grower in Campbell, the “Peach Capital of Missouri,” won a $265 million judgment against Bayer AG, the German multinational that swallowed up Monsanto and ditched its damaged brand-name. Bader showed how drift of dicamba from neighboring farms had killed off much of his 1000 acres of trees.
The Bader case undoubtedly spurred Bayer – as part of its much bigger $10 Billion settlement of claims of damage caused by Roundup – to include a fund of up to $400 million to settle claims lodged against Dicamba.
So far, most of those claims have come from farmers who say their field crops were damaged by Dicamba drift, but there may be a whole second wave of Dicamba damage claims. Our guest today reporter Johnathan Hettinger of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting says Bill Bader’s peach trees are not the only victims. A network of monitors told Hettinger that trees of many species, stretching from North Dakota, across Indiana and Kansas, as far south as Arkansas are dying. 90 percent of them show signs of Dicamba poisoning.
On June 8, the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals banned further in-season use of Dicamba. But that was hardly the end of the story, or the spraying, and inevitable drifting of Dicamba.
Johnathan Hettinger is a journalist based in Livingston, Montana. Originally from Central Illinois and a graduate of the University of Illinois, he has worked at the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, the Livingston Enterprise and the (Champaign-Urbana) News-Gazette. Contact Johnathan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jhett93.