States ban a common pesticide–and many farmers are happy about it

Arkansas and Missouri announced last week that they are temporarily banning a common agricultural chemical — and many farmers are happy about it.

Kara Cook-Schultz

Arkansas and Missouri announced last week that they are temporarily banning a common agricultural chemical—and many farmers are happy about it.

Farmers began calling for the ban after the weedkiller dicamba killed their crops and threatened their livelihood. Dicamba is a pesticide commonly manufactured by Monsanto and other pesticide makers, and its use is skyrocketing in 2017 because Monsanto began selling “dicamba-ready” soybean and cotton seeds last year. Similar to their “Roundup-ready” counterparts, dicamba-ready plants are genetically modified to withstand dicamba. Using these seeds, a farmer can spray the weedkiller directly onto the crop — killing the weeds but not the soybean plant.

Monsanto has invested $1 billion in this program, and expects 15 million acres to be planted with dicamba-resistant seeds in 2017 and 55 million acres by 2019.

The problem? Many farmers don’t plant dicamba-ready crops. In fact, Monsanto does not even sell these seeds for most crops (corn, wheat, fruit, vegetables — none of these crops currently have “dicamba-ready” versions on the market). So unless a farmer is growing soy or cotton, and he only planted dicamba-ready seeds, that crop is vulnerable to dicamba spray drift from the farm next door. And dicamba is VERY likely to drift to neighboring fields (moreso than many other weedkillers).

These farmers are finding their fields destroyed by neighboring drift. Some farmers lose whole crops to the neighbor’s spray, while others just find a few dying plants and are able to salvage their crop. 

“I’ve never seen anything even close to this,” said Larry Steckel, a weed specialist at the University of Tennessee. “We have drift issues every year in a handful of fields, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

In Arkansas alone, 550 farmers have complained that their fields have been damaged by their neighbor’s dicamba. And these farmers, angry that their livelihood is being threatened, pressed for Arkansas and Missouri to temporarily ban the substance.

The Missouri ban is especially noteworthy, as Monsanto is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

Beyond the economic concerns are the health concerns — dicamba is a toxic pesticide. Studies link exposure to dicamba with loss of appetite, vomiting, muscle weakness, slowed heart rate, and shortness of breath. Health experts and scientists do not yet know what effects the sudden spike in dicamba use will have on families and consumers. And it is used in far more areas than just Arkansas and Missouri — it is still widely used in Tennessee, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio.

It is time for other states to ban dicamba as well. Dicamba kills crops, farmers’ livelihoods are being destroyed, and it poses an unknown risk to public health. We don’t need dicamba-ready cotton and soy. In fact, one study shows that dicamba becomes ineffective on weeds in a matter of a few years if it is sprayed on the same field. In other words, the overuse of dicamba means it won’t even work in the future.

It’s time to say “Enough!” to genetically modified plants that lead to more pesticide use with little benefit. 

While the temporary bans in Missouri and Arkansas are a good start, the economic and health impacts of dicamba call for a total ban of the substance across the United States.



Kara Cook-Schultz