Last week a jury in Cape Girardeau, Mo., awarded a peach farm $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages in a trial against Monsanto (now Bayer) and BASF.
Bader Farms alleged that its peach trees were damaged by an off-target application of dicamba in 2016. That was the year that Monsanto released its new dicamba-tolerant soybeans — one year before there were new formulations of dicamba on the market that are supposedly less volatile than the old formulations.
Bader Farms claimed that Monsanto knew farmers would illegally spray the old, volatile formulations of dicamba on the new soybeans (even though those older chemicals are not labeled for soybeans) and still decided to sell the dicamba-tolerant beans.
Monsanto claimed the damage to the peach trees wasn’t caused by dicamba but by a fungal disease.
I’ve been to Cape Girardeau. I’ve spent the night there, and I drive through it every time I go home to visit my family’s farm in the South. So I can say with certainty that the town lies smack dab in the middle of Farm Country. It’s not California or the East Coast. It’s not some place where the people think food just comes from the grocery store.
A jury in an agricultural town returned a huge judgement against two giant ag corporations.
That’s a big deal. The floodgates are open.
On the same day the verdict was returned, a news release from a lawyer showed up in my email inbox. He encourages farmers and landowners who even suspect they have had dicamba damage to call him and seek justice in the courts.
Millions of acres have been damaged by off-target dicamba. Are the chemical and seed companies going to be on the hook for all of that?
Who knows, but it’s going to be one giant mess.
Dicamba damage complaints reached a peak last year in Illinois, despite a revised label. Farmers can’t predict when the product will move off target because, as studies have shown, it can volatilize three days after application. Most people I know can’t predict an inversion three days in advance, so how can anyone know if their dicamba application will stay on their fields?
And sure, you can plant dicamba-tolerant soybeans just to keep your crop safe from everyone else applying the stuff, but that doesn’t help specialty crop producers and orchard owners.
With so many farmers applying dicamba, the potential for harm to nearby property is too great to ignore.
So, with a difficult-to-control product and now with the precedent of a jury awarding huge punitive damages in a dicamba lawsuit, you’d think Bayer and BASF would take this opportunity to evaluate whether they should keep selling their dicamba-tolerant beans and dicamba formulas labeled for soybeans.
You’d be wrong, of course.
A statement issued by Bayer after the verdict said: “Despite the verdict, Bayer stands behind Xtend seed and XtendiMax herbicide products, which enjoy a 95% weed control satisfaction rate from the farmers who use them. We want our customers to know that, as this legal matter continues, we remain steadfast in our commitment to delivering them the effective and sustainable tools they need in the field.”
So as long as farmers can use it to control their weeds, they don’t care that others are harmed by their product. They’re going to appeal the verdict and keep selling their dicamba products.
I wonder how many millions of acres will be damaged this year?