Less than a year in, however, Monsanto’s promises of a “drift-free” dicamba have failed to materialize, as complaints have flooded into state agricultural departments across the country. So far this year, regulators in major soybean-growing states in the U.S. have received nearly four years’ worth of complaints regarding dicamba-related crop damage. The issue has been especially pronounced in Arkansas, where 985 complaints have been filed over dicamba-related damage, representing the vast majority of the approximately 1,200 total cases currently being handled by the state.
The situation is so bad that Arkansas and Missouri, another hard-hit state, agreed on a 120-day ban on dicamba use within each state earlier this year in July. Arkansas is currently considering banning the herbicide entirely, effective April of next year. Monsanto, of course, is fighting back against the proposed ban.
Though the most drastically affected, Arkansas is hardly alone. As of mid-October, the number of state investigations nationwide examining dicamba-related complaints totaled 2,708.
Many state agricultural agencies are unable to cope with the increased load and have delayed other functions in attempts to address as many complaints as possible. “We don’t have the staff to be able to handle 400 investigations in a year plus do all the other required work,” Paul Bailey, director of the Plant Industries division of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, told Reuters.
Despite the clear problem presented by the herbicide, Monsanto’s net sales have suffered no decline — climbing 8 percent, or $1.1 billion, in 2017, in part due to increased sales of dicamba products. However, Monsanto has failed to address the issue, only hazily acknowledging the existence of farmer complaints. “With significant adoption and a lot of interest in this new technology, we recognize that many states have received a number of reports of potential off-target application of dicamba in 2017,” Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord said last month, according to Reuters.
Monsanto bet big on paired herbicide and seeds
Given Monsanto’s lack of response to the growing problem of dicamba drift, and its aggressive marketing approach prior to the herbicide’s approval, critics have assertedthat Monsanto likely released the dicamba-tolerant seeds ahead of time in order to increase the chances of the herbicide’s approval by artificially creating an urgent need for the weed killer.
Monsanto’s $1 billion investment in dicamba production before it was federally approved has also been cited as further evidence that the corporation sought to create dependency on its newest herbicide. Indeed now, with dicamba drift a major problem following the herbicide’s approval, some soybean farmers have chosen to purchase the dicamba-tolerant seeds from Monsanto as opposed to facing the risk of losing their entire crop to dicamba drift.
Monsanto is gambling on dicamba for several reasons, partly because there exists little scientific evidence linking it to adverse health effects in humans, though weak correlations between its use and increased incidence of lung and colon cancer have been found. While it is set to replace the now increasingly ineffective and controversial glyphosate, the massive amount of damage dicamba has allegedly caused in just its first year may present an even greater problem to Monsanto’s profits than glyphosate ever did. It is already drastically affecting the bottom line of the national agricultural industry and pushing state regulators to their limits. Yet, if history is any indication, Monsanto will not part ways with its newly approved product without a fight.