Back to: Investigates
February 05, 2018 10:03 PM

Part 1: Dangerous Dicamba Drift

"Regulatory sanctioned vandalism by the state of South Dakota to allow this product to be used on the landscape here in South Dakota," Organic Farmer Charlie Johnson said.

It's a herbicide that's pitting farmer against farmer to the benefit of big chemical companies. 

After South Dakota approved the use of the herbicide Dicamba for 2017, the number of complaints coming into the Department of Agriculture grew by 150 percent.

Whether you're concerned about the chemical's effect on the environment, or the economic repercussions of thousands of acres of crop damage, Dicamba Drift is an issue that affects everyone in an agricultural state like South Dakota.

But as KELOLAND News Investigates discovers in part one of our series Dangerous Dicamba Drift, getting control of the problem is proving to be a major challenge.

Burton Raymer has been farming in northeastern South Dakota for 60 years. But he's never seen anything like the summer of 2017, when tests showed 2,500 acres of his soybean crops were damaged, not by wind or hail---but from his neighbor's herbicide. 

“See these leaves all curling up. We thought it could be really bad. We didn't know. We contacted some of our neighbors close by that had Dicamba sprayed and they said, well we went by the label and the wind was in the opposite direction, so it shouldn't be our problem.  Nobody wanted to take the responsibility,” Raymer said. 

Dicamba's been around for decades, but the EPA approved a new formula after common weeds became resistant to Roundup. The same companies that put out the herbicide also offer a genetically modified soybean seed that is Dicamba resistant.  However, when farmers like Raymer don't plant the Dicamba soybean, they're out of luck in the case of Dicamba drift.

“This stuff stays in a vapor form for four days. It's never the same environment for four days in South Dakota.  The only thing consistent is change,' Peterson said

Independent agronomist Jeff Peterson says no university studies were conducted on the new Dicamba formulas before they went on the market.

Kennecke: Is that unusual for a product not to be studied before it was released? 
Peterson: I've never seen it before in my life. I think they knew it was going to have volatilization issues, 

Once Dicamba becomes vapor, it can spread for miles, taking out, not just a row or two of a neighbor's crops, but entire fields. 

“It would be my estimate that 250,000 acres were injured,” Peterson said.

That estimate is well above the state's official count of Dicamba damage to crops at nearly 60,000 acres.  But Peterson says many farmers won't report it because crop insurance doesn't cover chemical damage.

“When it was released, we were told it would not have these issues and it came out and we had these issues. It was exactly how I thought it might be but it was actually worse, Peterson said.

And not just for soybeans; damage has been reported in the state to garden plants, beehives and fruit trees, including two acres of grapevines at Schade winery near Volga.

“All the leaves, you can just tell it turns into a cup; it's very easy to spot," Jim Schade said.

Dicamba drifted from his neighbor's bean field damaging Schade's grapes and another neighbor's non-Dicamba resistant soybeans.

“You can just see a line when it goes up the hill to the north; the damage stopped right at the end of our vineyards; it moves," Schade said. 

Schade won't know how much Dicamba has affected the grapes until next year's crop.

Schade: I kid the neighbor that sprayed this. I said, 'why don't you kill them all and put me out of my misery.'
Kennecke: Are you angry with your neighbor?  Oh no it wasn't his fault; great friends a customer of ours. He sprayed by the directions and it drifted," Schade said. 

But not everyone is so forgiving.

Last month in Arkansas, a farmer was convicted of murder after shooting his neighbor who was angry with him for damaging his crops with Dicamba.  It got so bad that for a period this summer, both Arkansas and Missouri banned the use of the chemical. 

Farmers in Missouri have also filed a class action lawsuit against makers Monsanto, BASF, and DuPont. The farmers claim the chemical companies acted "selfishly, focused on profits, and ignored their responsibilities to the market."

Lake County Organic Farmer Charlie Johnson agrees. 

“I think we should make the seed and chemical companies liable for all damages in the state and nationwide. Right now these operators and handlers sign a release not holding the company liable for damage and so it creates risk out there that nobody is being responsible for," Johnson said.

Johnson had a scare this summer when his organic soybean crop looked as if it had suffered Dicamba damage. Initial lab tests indicate that's not the case, but should the results have been positive, Johnson would have had to take his field out of production for three years to retain his organic certification.

"I control my weeds by stewardship and rotation and management and cultivating and hard work and yet you're at risk for these herbicides that are regulatory in nature; they're sanctioned by the state of South Dakota. They're put on the market by these major chemical companies and you're at risk to their whim," Johnson said.

"I'm not against technology.  I'm only against a farmer hurting another farmer," Peterson said.

KELOLAND News reached out to all three manufacturers of the Dicamba products.

Monsanto was the only one to grant us an interview and KELOLAND News was allowed 15 minutes to ask questions.

"Our new dicamba formulation (approved for in crop use for the 2017 season) is unique because it reduces volatility potential by 90% compared to older dicamba formulations, Monsato said. 

Monsanto says it has voluntarily made Dicamba a "restricted use pesticides" and changes to the label for 2018 will prevent 90 percent of the issues that happened across the nation in 2017. 

“The good news is all of these things are correctable by training and education. So that's why we're confident that if the label is followed the product will not move off target beyond buffer zones," Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge said.

But not everyone thinks the new federal label goes far enough.

Our neighboring states have put more restrictions on its use than South Dakota has.

"I feel at this point that the label is where it needs to be,” South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers said.

We also reached out to Dupont and BASF.

Dupont: We are unable to comment on ongoing legal action.


Find out why South Dakota's Ag Secretary says that, as we continue our look into Dangerous Dicamba Drift in part two of our investigation. That airs Tuesday on KELOLAND News at 10. 

Interactive Resources

MAP VIA: South Dakota Agricultural Laboratories


© 2018 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved. 

  • Eye on KELOLAND
  • Featured Stories
  • Investigates


We Welcome discussion on KELOLAND News stories but will delete any comments that contain swearing or make threats against others.


Click here for full weather details!