September 7, 2016 - Unintended Consequences from Monsanto's New Xtend Herbicide


Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - For two decades, farmers have relied on Roundup herbicide, using it so widely for so long that many herbicide resistant “super-weeds” evolved. Monsanto’s response was to tweak the system by adding the herbicide Dicamba to the mix and engineering new GMO soybeans and cotton seed resistant to the new product - Xtend.

For decades, dicamba was marketed for use on grassy species, wheat, sod and the like. Then, in 2005, Monsanto Co. hatched a two-point plan: First it would engineer soybeans and cotton to make them dicamba-resistant; next it would create a special variant of the pesticide less likely to waft off to where it isn’t welcome.

The recipe for the new dicamba includes something called VaporGrip, which is supposed to reduce volatility; the problem with existing formulations is that the chemicals can vaporize off plants on warm days, making the herbicide vulnerable to drift.  Part one of the plan is done. The seeds are in the market. The second part is not -- and that’s a big problem.

Despite state and federal prohibitions, many farmers have taken to spraying dicamba, and the stuff has been drifting all over the U.S. heartland. For folks like Landon Hayes, who grows earlier-generation soybeans in Campbell, Missouri, the consequences have been costly. He says 500 acres of his crops were damaged this summer by stray wisps of dicamba. And now he feels compelled to buy the engineered Monsanto seeds to avoid injury next season.  They knew that people would buy it just to protect themselves,” Hayes says. You’re pretty well going to have to. It’s a good marketing strategy, I guess. It kind of sucks for us.”

Christi Dixon, a Monsanto spokeswoman, calls suggestions it orchestrated the situation “absolutely false.” The company took “extensive steps,” she says, to remind growers that applying dicamba to the new Xtend-brand plant lines would be illegal.

In the meantime, Missouri has received 117 complaints alleging dicamba misuse afflicting more than 42,000 acres, according to an EPA compliance advisory. Farmers can face fines of $1,000, a penalty some lawmakers hope to increase. Nine other states from Illinois to Texas are investigating claims too.

In Arkansas, dicamba drift has been such a pest that a proposal is in the works to boost maximum fines to $25,000 from $1,000 and bar nearly all dicamba-product use near row crops.

Despite all of the problems, the company is counting on rapid adoption of Xtend to boost earnings in its seed and pesticide units and projects that the technology may eventually be on 250 million acres.

Comment:  Looks to me like this is just another form of “protection racket” - buy my soybean seed or suffer the consequences.

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