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February 06, 2018 10:08 PM

Part 2: Dangerous Dicamba Drift

In the first part of our KELOLAND News Investigation, Dangerous Dicamba Drift, we looked at how the new formula of vaporized weed killer spreads to conventional crops.

That includes specialty crops and organic farms -- damaging everything in its path for miles, even days after it was sprayed. 

"I contacted the neighbors right across the fence from us. I did everything the way I was supposed to do it, so I don't think I'm liable," farmer Burton Raymer said.

Kennecke:  He followed the label?
Rayner: Yeah he followed the label.

But as many states have discovered, following the label won't always stop the herbicide from spreading. 

KELOLAND News continues our investigation into this environmental disaster with how South Dakota is failing to take the same action as other states to prevent Dicamba drift.

"Makes you feel sick to your stomach. It's the first time I've experienced that," Raymer said.

"It's a product with an imperfect science and why I say that is that if it was true science behind these products, they'd be able to keep it on their side of the fence. But it's obvious they can't," Organic Farmer Charlie Johnson said.

"You can't kill your neighbor's crop. That's just decency and you shouldn't be able to kill your neighbor's way of living or income," Vineyard Owner Jim Schade said. 

Three different kinds of farmers--all facing the same problem of a neighbor's choice of herbicide damaging their crops. 

"In my wildest dreams I never thought we would have this many fields injured by Dicamba drift, " Agronomist Jeff Peterson said.

Here's how Dicamba works:  Farmers buy genetically modified soybeans that are resistant to the weed killer Dicamba.  But even if they spray their crops as directed on the federal label, unlike other herbicides, Dicamba vaporizes in the air and hangs around for days and can spread for miles through a temperature inversion, which can't be predicted. 

"This vapor is moving to wherever the wind takes it," Peterson said.

Agronomist Jeff Peterson estimates that as many as 250,000 acres of crops suffered Dicamba damage in South Dakota, much higher than the state's official tally of nearly 60,000 acres. Peterson says that's because most farmers won't report it due to the fact that crop insurance doesn't cover chemical damage. 

But Peterson doesn't want to see Dicamba taken off the market, just a few simple regulations imposed on using it, similar to those in our neighboring states.  

Both North Dakota and Minnesota have tightened up rules for spraying Dicamba beyond the federal label, with Minnesota only allowing spraying through June 20th, because Dicamba can cause more destruction after soybeans reproduce later in the summer.

University of Minnesota weed scientist Jeff Gunsolus recommended his state adopt the cutoff date.

"It's a fixed date--June 20th--so everybody's on a level playing field--they can have that discussion, if they're going to use this technology when they're going to use it.  That give you time to work that out, but not go later when you're increasing your odds of more injury," Gunsolus said.

Monsanto told us during a phone interview it disagrees with Minnesota's extra restrictions.

"No, I don't believe cutoff dates are necessary or appropriate and frankly the weeds don't know whether it's June 20 or June 21," Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge said.

Peterson: I want it to be managed correctly and I know how to do it and I want people to listen.
Kennecke:  And nobody is listening to you right now?  No, not that person who can do anything about it. 

Peterson says that person is South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers.  Jaspers tells KELOLAND Investigates the state is listening and requiring additional reporting by manufacturers on Dicamba use in the state.

"The other main thing we did in South Dakota was to require additional training for the use of these products," Jaspers said.

Peterson argues improper application isn't to blame.

"You don't all of a sudden in one year start damaging a quarter of a million acres in soybeans and think all those applicators had a contaminated sprayer," Peterson said.

"We're going to be monitoring and if there are additional things we feel need to happen; we still have the authority to put additional restriction on the label if we so need," Jaspers said.

Kennecke: If you were talking to Secretary Jaspers right now, what would you say to him?
Peterson: I'm talking to Angela Kennecke right now.. (laughter) because you won't listen to me and I want my words to be heard.  That we need to adopt Minnesota's June 20th cutoff date or we are going to lose this tool.

But even adapting Minnesota's cutoff date won't do much to help organic farmers, or those with other kinds of susceptible crops.

"What it becomes in essence is a regulatory sanctioned vandalism of a product being released on somebody else's neighboring product and vandalizing that product. That may be stark terms and stark words, but that's exactly how it feels to have your fields violated by somebody else's product," Charlie Johnson said.
Many Soybean farmers say they don't want to be forced to plant only Dicamba resistant crops.

According to the class action lawsuit filed by Missouri farmers against the chemical companies who make Dicamba "the only solution for innocent farmers then is to play defense... and buy products with Dicamba Resistance if they are available for their crops and plants."  The lawsuit alleges: "It is a repeating cycle of increased sales and profits for defendants." 

"I've heard those claims by lawyers filing lawsuits, making those allegations. I'm not hearing them from farmers. The reason farmers tell us they're buying our soybeans is because they're the highest yielding soybeans on their farm," Partridge said.

Monsanto tells us that the number of acres farmers plant of Dicamba resistant soybeans will double from 20 million to 40 million in 2018.

"I wouldn't want to be dictated by some company that I have to use their product; otherwise if I don't use their product, I'm going to have to accept a loss on my other beans. I don't like that situation.  Us farmers are pretty independent," Raymer said.

"The use of Dicamba is not about feeding the world. The use of Dicamba is all about making seed companies, huge and large and profitable," Johnson said.

We reached out to all three major manufacturers of Dicamba products and hear back from Monsanto and BASF. DuPont says it does not comment on ongoing legal issues.

Monsanto also told us that 90 percent of the problems caused by Dicamba were the result of the label not being followed properly.  Monsanto says the training and other new requirements on the EPA's label will solve those issues. The company also claims that even if crops looked as if they suffered from Dicamba damage, most were fine and yields were not affected.

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