Opinion: Monsanto missteps on marketing of dicamba-resistant soybeans

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Darrell Hoemann/Big Ag Watch

A Monsanto facility in Stonington, Ill., on May 19, 2015.

Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

Monsanto has suddenly become the gang that can’t shoot straight. It’s been a rough year for the Saint Louis-based agri-giant. But many of its wounds are self-inflicted – first there was the flap over BT-cotton with India and GMO soybean royalty fees with Argentina.

Monsanto has also been facing plunging profits and the worrisome problem that some of its biggest rivals are forming new monster companies: DuPont-Dow and Syngenta-ChemChina.

And there’s growing evidence that its flagship product, the glyphosate resistant soybean plant, has been outfoxed by Mother Nature, which is fighting back with new strains of super-weeds, such as waterhemp and horseweed, which thumb their leaves at the chemical.

Monsanto desperately needed a win to restore stockholder confidence and profits. Especially because Bayer is seeking to buy out Monsanto.

And so for the 2016 growing season Monsanto began selling its new next-generation soybean seeds – a strain resistant not only to glyphosate but also to dicamba.

Monsanto figured adding dicamba resistance to soybeans would be attractive to farmers.

If glyphosate doesn’t get the job done, no worries: a follow up application of dicamba would likely clean up the remaining weeds.

Except: Monsanto also designed a specific new dicamba formulation to partner with its new soybean seeds, and that chemical has not yet been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here’s the rub: Dicamba applications vaporize very easily and often drift on the winds landing in unintended places, such as a neighbor’s soybean field that can’t tolerate dicamba.

Monsanto’s new dicamba formulation is supposed to minimize vaporization.

Monsanto warned farmers not to use dicamba in 2016.

“DO NOT APPLY DICAMBA HERBICIDE IN-CROP TO Roundup Ready 2 Xtend® Soybeans IN 2016 unless you use a dicamba herbicide product that is specifically labeled for that use in the location where you intend to make the application. IT IS A VIOLATION OF FEDERAL AND STATE LAW TO MAKE AN IN-CROP APPLICATION OF ANY DICAMBA HERBICIDE PRODUCT ON Roundup Ready 2 Xtend® Soybeans, OR ANY OTHER PESTICIDE APPLICATION, UNLESS THE PRODUCT LABELING SPECIFICALLY AUTHORIZES THE USE.”

But some farmers have ignored the warning this growing season and sprayed dicamba anyway, with predicable results.

More than 100 farmers in Missouri have now filed formal complaints with the state’s department of agriculture, saying their neighbors’ use of dicamba is killing their soybeans.

Complaints are also pending in other states.

And some state governments are very unhappy with Monsanto’s decision to forge ahead.

For example, Arkansas’ Plant Board is drawing up regulations that would severely limit use of dicamba, including Monsanto’s new version.

And here’s the kicker: Monsanto dicamba soybeans might not work long-term.

The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service found that pigweed quickly developed resistance to dicamba.

All this could have been avoided if Monsanto had simply waited to see if the EPA would grant approval of its new dicamba formulation.

Perhaps Monsanto was fearful the EPA would deny dicamba, which would make its new soybeans yesterday’s news.

In any event, I think Monsanto jumped the gun in the name of profits.

You might say that if Monsanto was a presidential candidate, it lacked judgment.


About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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