CHICAGO — America’s two biggest independent seed sellers, Beck’s Hybrids and Stine Seed, told Reuters they are pushing US environmental regulators to bar farmers from spraying dicamba weed killer during upcoming summers in a potential blow to Bayer AG’s Monsanto Co.
Limiting spraying of the chemical to the spring season, before crops are planted, would prevent farmers from using the herbicide on dicamba-resistant soybeans that Monsanto engineered. The seeds are sold by companies including Beck’s and Stine.
Last summer, after farmers planted Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant soy seeds en masse, the herbicide drifted onto nearby farms and damaged an estimated 3.6 million acres of non-resistant soybeans, or 4% of all US plantings.
Problems have not gone away. As of July 15, the University of Missouri estimated that more than a million acres of non-resistant soybeans were hurt by dicamba. Homeowners who live near farms have also complained of damage to their trees and flowers.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now weighing such complaints as part of a high-stakes decision on the herbicide’s future.
Bayer bought Monsanto and its portfolio of dicamba-resistant Xtend brand soy seeds for $63 billion this year in a deal that created the world’s largest seed and pesticides maker.
St. Louis-based Monsanto sells dicamba herbicide, along with rivals BASF SE and DowDuPont, Inc. Monsanto and BASF said farmers need dicamba to kill tough weeds and that the chemical can be used safely. DowDuPont declined to comment.
Monsanto is banking on Xtend soybean seeds to dominate soy production in the United States, the world’s biggest producer. They are seen as a replacement for the company’s Roundup Ready line of seeds, engineered to tolerate the weed killer glyphosate, which has lost effectiveness as weeds develop their own tolerance to the chemical.
EPA approval for dicamba to be sprayed on resistant crops expires this autumn. The agency could extend its approval, with or without new restrictions on use, or take dicamba off the market. Seed companies expect a decision in the coming weeks.
Most complaints about dicamba drifting would stop if the EPA restricted its use to killing weeds in fields before crops are planted, Beck’s Hybrids told the agency in a July 27 letter seen by Reuters.
“Anybody that sprays it, you have issues with the volatilization,” CEO Sonny Beck said in an interview on Wednesday, referring to the chemical vaporizing and drifting.
Though his company profited from selling more than a million bags of Xtend soybean seeds this year, Beck said he worried that continued problems with the chemical could give the agriculture sector a bad reputation among consumers. — Reuters