It was about one year ago in November 2016 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Monsanto's weed killer, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology, a dicamba variety that is supposedly less prone to vaporization and drift, designed for use with genetically engineered (GE) dicamba-resistant seeds. The chemical was supposed to solve earlier problems caused by Monsanto's dicamba-resistant crops, which were released before they received approval for the less drift-prone herbicide.
As a result, illegal dicamba formulations were used, and the resulting dicamba drift caused significant damage to cropland across the U.S. The newer dicamba, however, did not prove to be the panacea that Monsanto had promised, and by November 2017, an estimated 3.6 million acres across the U.S. had been damaged by dicamba drift,1 as had trees in Iowa, Illinois and Tennessee.
Numerous states launched measures to prohibit dicamba sprayings, farmers suffered financial losses and, in some cases, neighboring farmers turned against one another as crops were damaged by the drifting chemical.
Now, with the EPA continuing to allow the use of dicamba on Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant crops, albeit with some restrictions, some farmers feel they're being forced to buy the GE seeds, just so they can survive their neighbors' chemical sprays.2 But Monsanto has another trick up its sleeve to encourage the use of its controversial and damaging weed killer. It's going so far as to pay farmers to spray it on their fields.
Monsanto to Pay Farmers to Spray Dicamba on Their GE Crops
It's expected that, as a result of the EPA's green light, planting of dicamba-tolerant soy will double in 2018, reaching about 40 million acres in the U.S.3 While Monsanto was thrilled about the news, stating, "We're very excited about it," the EPA has added new restrictions to dicamba usage, making it more cumbersome for farmers.
For instance, special training will be required to apply the herbicide, and its application will be prohibited when wind speeds are greater than 10 mph. Farmers will be asked to assess the risk that spraying could have on nearby crops, as well.
In light of the increased restrictions on its usage, Monsanto has decided to offer cash back to farmers who purchase XtendiMax with VaporGrip. The chemical typically costs farmers about $11 per acre, but Monsanto will give farmers $6 cash back when they use it on their dicama-tolerant Xtend soybeans. "Weed specialists say the restrictions make the chemical more costly and inconvenient to apply, but Monsanto's incentive could help convince farmers to use it anyway," Reuters reported.4
Indeed, not only will the cash-back offer encourage more farmers to purchase XtendiMax with VaporGrip but also Monsanto's GE seeds to go along with it. At the same time, it will reduce the likelihood of farmers turning to one of Monsanto's competitors, as both BASF SE and DowDuPont sell dicamba-based herbicides as well.
The shrewd marketing decision will likely amount to an economic windfall for Monsanto and a major blow to the environment. In 2017, about 4 percent of the 90 million acres of soybeans planted in the U.S. had signs of damage due to dicamba.5
US States Increasingly Restrict Dicamba Use
According to an EPA meeting that took place in November 2017 — the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee Meeting — the EPA first started receiving reports of significant crop damage resulting from dicamba drift in May and June 2017. Cases were first reported in the Missouri Bootheel (the southeasternmost part of the state) but, the EPA reported, "As the season progressed, reports of soybean damage spread across southern states and northern [Missouri], into the Midwest and Dakotas."6
As of October 15, 2017, 2,708 dicamba-related crop injury investigations had been reported, affecting primarily soybeans but also tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, vineyards, pumpkins, vegetables, trees and shrubs and residential gardens.
The dicamba damage may actually be even more widespread than this, however, according to Reuben Baris, the EPA's acting branch chief in the Office of Pesticide Programs, who stated that most incidents went unreported and the actual number of dicamba-related crop injury incidents could be five times higher than what was reported.7
The EPA plans to monitor the success of their new restrictions to determine whether dicamba usage on dicamba-tolerant soy (and cotton) will be allowed beyond the 2018 growing season. A number of states aren't waiting to find out, however, and have already implemented restrictions.
Arkansas, where the largest number of incidents were filed (nearly 1,000) has voted to ban most dicamba spraying in the state in 2018 (although it still hasn't been finalized), while Minnesota is also considering enacting restrictions. North Dakota will prohibit dicamba use after June 30, 2018, as well as when temperatures rise beyond 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Missouri also plans to ban dicamba spraying in 10 counties after June 1, 2018, and across the state after July 15, 2018.8