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Dicamba Damage Estimate Tops 2.5 Million Acres

The herbicide is suspected of drifting in the wind to neighboring farms and causing widespread damage.

soybean field

Photo: FILE: AMY MAYER / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

A soybean field in Jasper County, Iowa, in 2016

Hundreds of Midwest farmers are complaining of damage to their crops allegedly caused by the herbicide dicamba. The total number of damaged acres may come to more than 2.5 million acres, according to data compiled by a University of Missouri researcher.

Most of the damage has been found in the Midwest and South, with complaints of more than 850,000 damaged acres in Arkansas and more than 300,000 damaged acres in both Missouri and Illinois.

Farmers spray dicamba to kill weeds and some varieties of soybeans are genetically engineered to withstand the chemical. Dicamba, though, is suspected of drifting in the wind to neighboring farms and causing widespread damage.

University of Missouri weed specialist and assistant professor Kevin Bradley surveyed state agriculture departments, extension offices, pesticide applicators and others to get a grasp of the magnitude of the problem. He found more than 1,400 dicamba-related complaints have been filed with state regulators across the country.

“That’s pretty huge,” Bradley says. “I don’t know that we’ve ever in our agricultural history ever seen one active ingredient do so much damage across one nation like that.”

Bradley says he did not hear back from every state he reached out to about damaged acreage and complaints, so he expects the numbers are actually higher than what he reports. And he suspects they will continue to rise as the growing season continues.

“I don’t think most of the farm community and the general community realize the extent of the problem,” he says. “From a soybean standpoint in the U.S., we plant 90 million acres and 2.5 million of them are injured with one product: dicamba.”

The state of Arkansas has temporarily banned farmers from using dicamba. The state of Missouri also temporarily banned the sale and use of the chemical, but has since developed new, stricter guidelines for use and lifted the ban.

Bradley says dicamba can play a role in a diverse weed management program, but all stakeholders, including applicators, manufacturers, scientists and farmers need to come to the table to figure out how it can be used without hurting neighboring farms.

“We’ve all got to come together and admit that there is a pretty significant problem here and we can’t really move forward to try to figure out what to do in 2018 until we can all realize that this is not just confined to one area or one geography,” Bradley says. “This is really a U.S. problem.”

Harvest Public Media

Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.

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