Farmers’ estimates of herbicide damage top 120,000 acres
Complaints of crop damage in Arkansas possibly caused by a herbicide topped 700 this week, and preliminary estimates put the damaged cropland at 122,000 acres, a subcommittee of the state Plant Board was told Friday.
As of Friday afternoon, the board had received 726 complaints from 25 counties, mostly along the Arkansas Delta, where cotton and soybeans are the primary crops. One month ago, the tally stood at 207 complaints.
Plant Board inspectors investigating the complaints “have looked at everything but 50 fields,” Susie Nichols, manager of the board’s pesticide division, told a subcommittee of the board Friday. “I’d say that’s impressive,” she said.
Along with inspecting crop damage, the inspectors gather samples for federal regulators and collect sales records from chemical dealers and spraying schedules from farmers. Many inspectors have been working seven days a week since the flood of complaints began in early June.
The inspectors aren’t allowed by law to estimate acreage possibly damaged, Nichols said. The estimate of more than 120,000 acres damaged was reached after Plant Board employees in Little Rock called farmers and asked them for damage estimates.
Arkansas on July 11 imple-
● mented a 120-day emergency ban on the sale and in-crop use of the herbicide dicamba. Until the ban, only one dicamba herbicide — BASF’s Engenia — had been allowed in the state.
Similar complaints are rising in other states, including the Corn Belt: 207 in Missouri, 68 in Indiana, 66 in Kansas, and 47 in Nebraska. As of late last week, officials in Tennessee and Mississippi reported a combined 143 complaints.
As complaints mounted, Arkansas farmers on Wednesday filed another lawsuit in federal court against the makers of the chemicals.
Filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, the farmers seek class-action certification on behalf
of other possible plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are Smokey Alley Farm Partnership in Earle, Amore Farms in Marion, the Kenneth Loretta Garrett Qualls Farm Partnership in Craighead County, and JTM Farms, Qualls Land Co. and the Michael Baioni and McLemore Farms, all in Crittenden County.
Defendants are Monsanto, BASF and DuPont — the makers of dicamba-based herbicides allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency for in-crop use this season on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans. Monsanto developed the new traits of seed to help farmers fight pigweed and other weeds that have grown resistant to glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup.
Lawyers for the farmers — the Peiffer Rosca Wolf firm in St. Louis and Paul James and
Michael Smith, both of Little Rock — contend that their clients have found dicamba damage on at least 7,000 acres, primarily soybeans that were not genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, altered to be tolerant of dicamba.
A similar lawsuit was filed last month in federal court in Jonesboro by farmers in Craighead and Monroe counties.
“This is not an anti-GMO lawsuit; it’s a lawsuit about corporate greed, a rush to market, and the resulting fallout,” according to the lawsuit.
Monsanto marketed the new dicamba-tolerant seeds — cotton in 2015, soybeans in 2016 — before having the accompanying herbicide approved by the EPA, the lawsuit said.
For the 2017 crop season, Monsanto, BASF and DuPont began selling dicamba herbicides
that, according to the lawsuit were supposed to be less volatile and less prone to drift than older formulations of dicamba. “Despite being touted by defendants as safe for nontarget crops and plants, they are not,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit didn’t specify an amount in damages being sought and acknowledged that farmers won’t know the extent of damage until harvest this fall.