Monsanto touts increase in demand for dicamba-resistant seeds in letter to farmers

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Darrell Hoemann/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Dicamba-resistant soybeans in rural McLean County on August 7, 2017.

Monsanto announced this week that the number of acres of a new soybean seed planted in 2018 is expected to double to 40 million acres, according to an open letter to “farmer-customers” by Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley.

This is nearly half of the U.S. soybean market. U.S. farmers planted an estimated 89.5 million acres of soybeans in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The announcement comes after Monsanto posted record profits in Fiscal Year 2017, largely because of a demand for its new generation of genetically modified soybean and cotton seeds.

The RoundupReady 2 Xtend soybean and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton seeds, which were engineered to be resistant to the herbicide dicamba, were released in 2016.

But new versions of dicamba made by Monsanto and BASF were not released until 2017. The latest versions of herbicide were touted to be less volatile than traditional versions and therefore approved for use on soybeans.

Dicamba is an herbicide that has been used on corn production but traditionally harms soybeans and cotton.

With the modifications to seeds, the herbicide could be sprayed on these crops and kill "super weeds" that are becoming resistant to glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide.

In 2017, however, the use of dicamba, damaged at least 3.6 million acres of non-resistant soybeans in the Midwest and South, according to University of Missouri Professor Kevin Bradley.

This damage spurred lawsuits and record complaint numbers and caused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several states to restrict the use of dicamba in 2018.

In response, Fraley wrote that 97 percent of “soybean growers who applied XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology” reported weed control satisfaction.

He also said that field trials for the dicamba-resistant soybeans reportedly produced 5.7 bushels per acre more than Bayer’s LibertyLink soybeans, which are Monsanto’s main competitor in the soybean market.

“Our top priority is ensuring grower and applicator success. We know 2018 will bring more positive grower experiences, but as with any new technology, we know you will have questions as well,” Fraley wrote. “We are committed to addressing your questions and concerns throughout the season, and we will remain in regular communication with you in the months ahead.”

In addition, Monsanto is taking extra steps to incentivize customers to use its dicamba-resistant seeds, including distributing one million spray nozzles to customers for free, opening up a technical support call center and providing an additional financial incentive of up to $6 per acre for using its version of dicamba, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology.

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