Agriculture has never seen anything like it before. Typically, a company that sells a seed or chemical or other crop input will wheedle and cajole farmers to get them to use it. But farmers this year are being verbally beaten up and blamed for the problems surrounding the use of the new dicamba herbicide formulations. Monsanto, in particular, has not offered any mea culpa in response to the damage to crops and other vegetation which are not tolerant of dicamba.
There could be billions of dollars of damage to other crops, and farmers who used the product to kill weeds in their field are on the hook because they applied the dicamba that also killed their neighbor’s crops. Class action lawsuits have already been filed, along with individual lawsuits against farmers and commercial applicators alleging misuse of the product.
Neither Monsanto, maker of the dicamba-based XtendiMax, nor BASF, maker of another dicamba formulation known as Engenia, are offering any help to their customers for the damage the product has created. Monsanto, in particular, has blamed all of the problems on its customers for not obeying the rules set out in its 4,405-word product label, which specifies how it was to be used.
The company has said farmers applied it when they should not have because of weather conditions, or did not clean out their spray tank, hoses, and nozzles properly, or used older dicamba products in a way they were not allowed, or did not provide enough distance between fields.
While BASF has said very little publicly, Monsanto has been quite verbal about the problems associated with the dicamba product. But BASF is not going through a controversial merger that could be jeopardized by the potential financial loss of from seed and chemical sales that Monsanto faces should the dicamba formulations lose their registration from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA only gave the companies two years to prove the value of their products or lose the ability to sell the chemistry that is linked to the genetics in Monsanto’s Xtend soybean seed, making it tolerant of dicamba. Any misstep would force the EPA to yank the product from the market, and farmers would no longer be interested in buying seed that cost more than twice as much as other soybean seed. That alone could jeopardize Monsanto’s acquisition by Germany-based Bayer. So, all blame for the products problems has to be shifted elsewhere.
Elsewhere equals farmers, who have been thrown under the bus. Joining them are a half-dozen university weed researchers who have defended farmers to a large extent, contending their research shows that many of the problems resulted from the tendency of the dicamba product to volatilize and drift away from the field on which it was sprayed. That is in conflict with the Monsanto name for its dicamba product, “XtendiMax with Vaporgrip.”
Ironically, Monsanto willingly shared quantities of its product with the weed researchers, with the proviso that they may not conduct any research on volatilization or drift of the product, because the company had already done that and was satisfied with the product’s performance. While the weed researchers have not been directly criticized yet by the companies, their comments are making plenty of headlines unfavorable about the ability of the dicamba products to go where they are supposed to go and stay there.
Their fate of getting research funded is uncertain at this point. But they have certainly taken the side of the farmer. While there is broad acknowledgement that some dicamba applications did not correctly follow the complex label, some individual farmers could be liable for damage, but other farmers should not be bundled with them.
Currently the EPA is surveying many authorities for suggestions on the second year of the dicamba registration. The most verbal suggestion is coming from Monsanto’s leadership, which is saying the product is fine when applied properly, but because of the problems seen this year, all farmers should be required to attend winter classes on how to apply their dicamba herbicide and not repeat the same problems next year.
That is not how to wheedle and cajole your customers.