Dicamba on trial: Weed scientist: With widespread pollution, ‘no way’ to know where drift that harmed peaches came from

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - The air in parts of the Midwest and South has become so contaminated with the weed killer dicamba that it has caused widespread damage to soybeans and other crops in recent summers, testified Dr. Ford Baldwin, a professor emeritus of weed science at the University of Arkansas in federal court on Thursday. Amid the pollution, thousands of farmers have filed complaints about cupping leaves, stunted growth and lower yields. Among those is Bill Bader, the owner of the largest peach farmer in Missouri, who is suing German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF, alleging they created the situation with the release of their joint dicamba cropping system. 

The lawsuit alleges that the companies released their dicamba-related products beginning in 2015 knowing that it would result in damage to farms, creating more demand for their products. 

The contamination is occurring because so many farmers are spraying so much of the weed killer at the same time that it builds up in the air to high enough levels that it is unable to dissipate, Baldwin said. Small amounts of the weed killer volatize, or turn into gas, and in stable atmospheric conditions, what is effectively an invisible cloud of weed killer spreads across the landscape, he said.

In trial against Bayer and BASF, Missouri peach farmer testifies about alleged dicamba damage

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - In June 2018, Bill Bader’s grandson wanted a ripe peach to eat, so the two got in an all-terrain vehicle and drove to the area of Bader’s farm where the fruit would be about the size of baseballs, ready to eat fresh off the tree. Only when they got there, the peaches were on the ground. The weakened trees just couldn’t hold the fruit. The grandson asked Bader what to do now.

Dicamba on trial: Peach farmer takes the stand in lawsuit against Bayer, BASF

Since 1970, Bill Bader has worked on peach farms in Dunklin County, Missouri, just north of the Arkansas border. Bader started picking peaches at age 13, and in 1988, he established Bader Farms.

The farm grew to become the largest peach grower in Missouri, shipping fruit to grocery stores such as IGA and Wal-Mart, as well as others across eight states in the Midwest and South. “A peach we picked today will be in the grocery store tomorrow morning,” Bader testified in federal court in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday. Bader took the stand a week and a half into a trial of a lawsuit he filed against German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF. Bader alleges that drift from the herbicide dicamba has damaged his peach trees and made his 1,000-acre operation no longer sustainable.

Dicamba on trial: Despite assurances to farmers, BASF told pesticide applicators dicamba may cause soybean damage

While BASF was telling farmers there would be no yield impacts from dicamba drift in 2017, the company was privately telling pesticide applicators that any drift they caused could cause yield loss, according to Monday video testimony from Gary Schmitz, tech service regional manager for the Midwest. Schmitz was the first official from BASF to testify in the ongoing trial of the civil lawsuit filed by Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri. In the lawsuit, Bader Farms alleges that Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, and BASF knew their dicamba-related products released beginning in 2015 would cause damage to other farmers, yet released the products anyway. 

Monsanto released cotton seeds genetically engineered to withstand being sprayed by dicamba in 2015 and similar soybean seeds in 2016, but neither BASF nor Monsanto released accompanying herbicides, designed to be less volatile than older versions of dicamba, until 2017. In 2015 and 2016, many farmers illegally sprayed BASF’s older versions of the volatile herbicide on their dicamba-tolerant crops, according to the lawsuit. Bader Farms alleges that it is no longer a sustainable business after being hit by dicamba drift each year since 2015.

Dicamba on trial: Monsanto officials testified dicamba may drift, but not enough to harm crops

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo - If farmers follow the label, small amounts of dicamba may move off of the crops where they are applied, but there is “no way” that movement could hurt neighboring crops, according to video testimony from Monsanto officials in federal court on Friday. The testimony wrapped up the first week of a trial in a civil lawsuit filed by Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri, against BASF and Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018. Bader Farms alleges that drift from the herbicide dicamba led to its 1,000-acre peach farm no longer being sustainable. Bader also alleges the companies released their dicamba-related products knowing they would harm other crops. 

BASF and Bayer deny the allegations, blaming the crop damage on farmers making illegal applications, weather events, disease and other issues. The companies are defending themselves in court, and the trial is expected to last at least two weeks.

Dicamba on trial: Monsanto officials limited testing on its own plots

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — In February 2015, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considering whether to approve a new Monsanto weed killer anticipated to be sprayed on tens of millions of acres of crops, many researchers wanted to see how the herbicide would work in the field. University researchers had been requesting the tests in order to ease farmers’ fears about crop damage, and Monsanto scientists wanted to conduct tests to help draft recommendations for farmers who would use the pesticide. But knowing federal regulators were paying attention to the new weed killer's potential to contaminate other fields, the company decided to “pull back” on testing to allow dicamba to have a “clean slate,” according to an email from Dr. Tina Bhakta, who, in her role as global chemistry expansion lead for Monsanto, was responsible for obtaining EPA registration for the weed killer. The email was included in Bhakta’s video testimony Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in a civil lawsuit filed by Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in the state, against German agribusiness giants BASF and Bayer, which bought St.