Weed-killer prompts an­gry di­vide among US farm­ers

Her­bi­cide dicamba is be­ing seen as crop saviour by some and health killer by oth­ers

Muscat Daily - - OPINION - Juli­ette Michel

Lit­tle Rock, US - When it comes to the her­bi­cide dicamba, farm­ers in the south­ern US state of Arkansas are not lack­ing for strong opin­ions.

“Farm­ers need it des­per­ately,” said Perry Gal­loway.

“If I get dicamba on (my prod­ucts), I can’t sell any­thing,” re­sponded Shawn Peebles.

The two men know each other well, liv­ing just miles apart in the towns of Gre­gory and Au­gusta, in a cor­ner of the state where cot­ton and soy­bean fields reach to the hori­zon and homes are of­ten miles from the near­est neigh­bour.

But they dis­agree pro­foundly on the use of dicamba.

Last year the agro-chem­i­cal gi­ant Mon­santo be­gan sell­ing soy and cot­ton seeds ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied to tol­er­ate the her­bi­cide.

The chem­i­cal prod­uct has been used to great ef­fect against a weed that plagues the re­gion, Palmer ama­ranth - es­pe­cially since it be­came re­sis­tant to an­other her­bi­cide, glyphosate, which has be­come highly con­tro­ver­sial in Europe over its ef­fects on hu­man health.

The prob­lem with dicamba is that it va­por­ises eas­ily and is car­ried by the wind, of­ten spread­ing to nearby farm fields - with vary­ing ef­fects.

Fac­ing a surge in com­plaints, au­thor­i­ties in Arkansas early this sum­mer im­posed an ur­gent ban on the prod­uct’s sale.

A bit­ter dis­pute

“Dicamba has af­fected my whole fam­ily,” said Kerin Hawkins, her voice trem­bling. Her brother, Mike Wal­lace, died last year dur­ing an al­ter­ca­tion with a worker from a neigh­bour­ing farm whom he had met to dis­cuss his con­cerns over the her­bi­cide. A jury is set to rule on whether Wal­lace’s fa­tal shoot­ing con­sti­tuted homi­cide or self-de­fence.

This year, the fam­ily says, drift­ing dicamba has af­fected some 30 hectares of peanuts and 4 hectares of new va­ri­eties of veg­eta­bles planted on their farm, sharply re­duc­ing profits.

“This is not just a dicamba is­sue, this is not just a Mon­santo is­sue, this is about how we as hu­man be­ings treat other peo­ple,” Kerin Hawkins said.

She was tes­ti­fy­ing at a pub­lic hear­ing in Lit­tle Rock, the state capitol, or­gan­ised by the agency that reg­u­lates pes­ti­cide and her­bi­cide use in Arkansas.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward the agency called for curbs on the use of dicamba, a de­ci­sion sub­ject to leg­isla­tive ap­proval.

So large was the turnout for the hear­ing that the agency had to move it from its own of­fices to a meet­ing room in a ho­tel. In all, 37 peo­ple stepped up to the mi­cro­phone to ex­plain - of­ten in voices shak­ing with emo­tion - why they favoured or strongly op­posed the prod­uct.

Deal­ing with di­ver­sity

“I’m here to tell you we used dicamba and we had a won­der­ful year,” said Harry Stephens, who with his son grows soy­beans in Phillips County. At a time when some younger farm­ers are strug­gling to make ends meet, he said, banning dicamba could ‘put them out of busi­ness’.

Richard Coy, who raises bees, said dicamba has had a dev­a­s­tat- ing im­pact on hives lo­cated near farm fields where dicamba is in use.

“I lost US$500,000 in honey pro­duc­tion and US$200,000 worth of pol­li­na­tion con­tracts to Cal­i­for­nia farms due to the poor health of my bee­hives,” he said.

On the edge of his farm field, Perry Gal­loway points out some of the weeds - dead but still stand­ing, many of them head-high - that ru­ined sev­eral of his past crops. He has since sprayed dicamba twice over an area of 1618. hectares, and says that ‘we had the clean­est fields we had in a long time’.

But Shawn Peebles, who grows or­ganic veg­eta­bles, was able to deal with the weed by hir­ing work­ers to pull them up by hand.

“It is known for a fact dicamba will move,” he said. If he gets any in his fields - which has not hap­pened this year - ‘I have to de­stroy the crop’. “Di­ver­sity is what made agri­cul­ture what it is to­day,” he said. “It is not just dicamba (and) soy­beans; there is or­ganic farms such as my­self, there are vine­yards in Arkansas, and we all need to work to­gether.”


Ac­tivists from En­sem­ble Zoologique de Lib­er­a­tion de la Na­ture (Zoo­log­i­cal En­sem­ble for Na­ture’s Lib­er­a­tion) take part in a demon­stra­tion against the weed-killer glyphosate and US agro­chem­i­cal com­pany Mon­santo in front of the Jus­tice Palace in Brus­sels,...


Work­ers sort sweet pota­toes at Peebles Or­gan­ics in Au­gusta, Arkansas. The fac­tory has op­posed the use of the her­bi­cide dicamba

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