Farmers in Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee are confronting widespread crop damage and bracing for lower yields as a result of agrichemical giant Monsanto’s botched roll-out of new genetically engineered soybean and cotton crops. The company, whose current line of glyphosate-tolerant crops are failing to control weeds throughout the U.S. and across the globe, developed a new line of soybean and cotton with traits that make it tolerate applications of an older herbicide dicamba. However, while its seeds are available for purchase on the market, and Monsanto is encouraging farmers to grow them, the company has yet to receive EPA regulatory approval for the dicamba herbicide meant to be used with the plants.
A spate of news reports over the past two months in southern soybean growing regions finds that many farmers are illegally applying off-label dicamba-based herbicides to Monsanto’s new GE crops in an effort to control weeds resistant to glyphosate. Use of this highly volatile herbicide is causing widespread crop damage not only to soybeans that don’t carry the resistance trait, but other crops in the region, including peaches, melons, and tomatoes.
Dicamba has a strong propensity to volatilize small particles of the herbicide into the air and drift far off-site. Sensitive crop species can be damaged by dicamba at levels in the parts per million. A study published by Pennsylvania State scientists in late 2015 found dicamba drift was “frequently responsible for sublethal, off-target damage” to plants and insects. Researchers found that even very low rates of dicamba herbicide exposure negatively impacted plant flowering, and thus insect pollination.
Monsanto is encouraging farmers to plant its dicamba-tolerant seeds because the company claims it also creates higher yields. The company told NPR that it made clear to farmers that they could not spray dicamba on its dicamba-tolerant crops.