July 29, 2022 by Nick Meyer
The broad-spectrum herbicide dicamba was first approved for use in the United States in 1962, and first registered in 1967 under brand names including Dianat, Banvel, Diablo, Oracle and Vanquish.
As you might imagine based on the aforementioned names and the history of Monsanto, which developed the herbicide, dicamba is a highly corrosive and toxic chemical formulation.
The chemical was approved for over-the-top spraying on dicamba-tolerant, genetically modified cotton and soy by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016, despite strong evidence linking it to cancer.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health followed nearly 50,000 pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina for two decades, documenting pesticide use and cancer incidence in a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. They found that dicamba exposure can increase the risk of developing cancers including liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancers, acute and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and mantle cell lymphoma.
Unfortunately for farmers who conduct their business anywhere in the shadow of this highly destructive chemical, cancer risks are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the damage dicamba is capable of inflicting.
“We Got Completely Wiped Out. We Had to Stop Production”
Across the country, farmers’ livelihoods have been under attack from dicamba drift. Pesticide drift with other widely used chemicals, such as glyphosate and 2,4-D, has been documented. But nothing compares to what was unleashed with the advent of GMO soy and cotton genetically engineered to be dicamba-tolerant.
Dicamba arrives like a silent storm, causing irreparable damage to crops on farms in the path of its drift, which can extend for miles. The herbicide is so volatile that it has the potential to re-aerosolize and drift days after its application in certain weather conditions, making it very difficult, if not impossible, to track back to the source. Its ubiquitous nature means there is usually nowhere to hide for organic farmers. They are forced to suffer what sometimes amounts to millions of dollars in damage, all because of their neighbors’ decision to use the uncontrollable, toxic herbicide.
One farmer in South Dakota was forced to abandon his crops and business model. His organic vegetable farm suffered massive damage due to dicamba drift from a neighboring farm.
He was an innocent bystander during the ordeal, but lost his livelihood.
“We got completely wiped out,” said John Zuhlke, founder of Little Shire Farm in Aurora, SD.
“We had to stop production. All of our CSA shares, community-supported agriculture shares – gone; farmers markets – gone.”
The farm once raised 600 types of vegetables. In 2017, an off-target dicamba application forced him to scale back vegetable growing.
“Dicamba is a disaster,” Zuhlke wrote in an email to Successful Farming.
Farmer Wins $265 Million Award in Lawsuit After Peach Crop is Destroyed by Bayer-Monsanto and BASF Chemical
Dicamba also caused immense damage to the largest peach tree farm in the United States, Bader Farms of Missouri.
A federal jury in the state awarded $15 million to Bader Farms, which they ruled was the actual amount of damage caused to the peach trees affected and destroyed by dicamba drift from a nearby farm. $250 million was awarded in punitive damages.
The case showed the extent of the destruction dicamba is capable of causing, as the chemical caused the withering and destruction of millions of dollars worth of peach trees in a single season.
Texas Grape Growers Devastated by Dicamba
In Texas, grape growers and vineyards have been devastated by dicamba, which is typically sprayed by GMO cotton growers.
In a recent article in TexasMonthly, grape grower Andy Timmons described how the chemical severely damaged his crops and threatened his livelihood in the Lone Star State.
“You see how these leaves are shriveled up?” Timmons asked, grabbing a branch and showing it to the interviewer.
Many of the leaves were stunted and had curled back and shriveled up after exposure to the chemical.
“That’s called cupping,” Timmons added.
It’s a scene that’s becoming all too familiar for organic growers forced to contend with the toxic nightmare of dicamba drift.
Timmons had seen similar damage done to his soybean crops, and now it was happening to his grapes.
Described as an “island in an ocean of (GMO) cotton,” Timmons’ crops were assaulted by dicamba from all sides.
According to legal filings revealed by the publication, grape yields fell as much as 90 percent after exposure to chemical drift from neighboring farms.
Organic farmers once again fell victim to their neighbors’ toxic practices, as has been happening since the adoption of glyphosate-tolerant GMO crops sprayed with herbicides such as Roundup in the mid-1990s.
Even the healthiest vines died or were badly damaged by dicamba drift, growers say.
“Every year it got progressively worse,” Timmons said.
Research has shown that plant leaves start to shrivel and die within hours of dicamba exposure.
Dicamba Destroys More Than Just Fruits and Vegetables
In January 2019, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Coy’s Honey Farm, the state’s largest commercial beekeeper, closed after becoming a ‘casualty of dicamba’ according to one of its owners, Richard Coy.
The report stated that dicamba had been damaging or killing vegetation essential to bee health including redvine, a flower plant native to Arkansas, and button willow, a tree or shrub common in wetlands. Both plants were badly damaged or destroyed by dicamba drift, and both were hit hard in the previous year, Coy said.
Both plants were also of high importance to his business.
“The driving force behind us shutting down is the destruction of the pollinating plants that bees need,” Coy said.
Why is Dicamba Still Legal and What’s Being Done?
In 2017, 3.6 million acres were affected by dicamba drift, oftentimes damaged by the herbicide from up to a mile and a half away. There were over 2,700 “dicamba incidents.” Two years later, that number jumped to 3,300.
In 2021, the EPA received reports from thousands of U.S. growers that the cancer-linked, highly destructive herbicide was causing serious damage again.
Among the plants affected were pollinator-friendly wild plants like the ones listed above, along with larger vegetation like sycamore, oak and elm trees. Azaleas, black-eyed Susans, roses, tomatoes, grapes, peanuts, sugar beets, sweet potatoes, rice, peppers, peaches, and peas are among the other crops and farms affected.
Home gardens and landscaped areas have also been widely damaged.
The EPA has responded by implementing control requirements such as the creation of buffer zones around fields, but the problem has persisted.
The Push to Ban Dicamba — And How You Can Help
The EPA made minor changes to its dicamba regulations in 2021, but it has done little to stop the destruction of crops.
The agency admitted in December 2021 that this toxic Bayer-Monsanto chemical has harmed thousands of farmers, and also that these numbers have likely been undercounted by about 25 times.
Affected farmers and beekeepers across the United States are asking for your help.
“I would like everyone to contact the EPA… If we can get enough people to rise up and say ‘enough is enough, we don’t want to poison our food’, maybe we can get something changed,” said beekeeper Richard Coy.
Use your voice to speak up for the organic farmers, beekeepers, home gardeners and others harmed by dicamba drift, and for the farmers that will be harmed if dicamba continues to be used.
Demand that the EPA BAN DICAMBA now to stop the destruction. CLICK TO TAKE ACTION TODAY.