Friday, March 14, 2014

Monsanto Squares Off With Farmers Over Agent Orange Herbicide

American farmers are among the biggest supporters of genetically modified crops on the planet, saying you can’t argue with the results of higher yields for less work, in spite of concerns — especially in Europe — about Frankenfoods.

But even U.S. farmers have their limits.

They’re going public in what to date has been a back-room battle with two big agricultural giants over the kinds of herbicides that can be sprayed on certain crops. The details might sound like a chemistry lesson to some, but the farmers believe what’s at stake is not only their livelihoods but possibly the social fabric of America’s farming communities.

The problem: One agricultural company has agreed with the farmers’ concerns and changed its plans. Another, though, is resisting, and the farmers are not happy.

This group of Midwest vegetable farmers has failed to convince Monsanto to reformulate an herbicide that could become one of the most widely used in the nation. But they were able to get another company, Dow AgroSciences, to agree to changes to an herbicide it has on the market. Those changes will protect their fields, the farmers say.

Monsanto officials “have just dug their feet in,” said Steve Smith, chairman of the Save Our Crops group.

“I’m not here to be a salesman for Dow, but I’m here to stand up when people do the right thing,” he said. “Dow did.”

The trouble concerns two herbicides, 2,4-D and dicamba. Both have been used for more than 40 years in small amounts, but are about to get a lot more popular.

New corn and soybean varieties genetically modified to withstand these herbicides are expected to be approved in the next few years. The federal comment period for one, 2, 4-D, ended on March 11.
These vegetable farmers have no problems with GM crops. Rather, the veggie farmers are concerned about a much older problem with the herbicides — something called drift.

Drift occurs when pesticides sprayed to kill weeds in one field waft into neighboring fields, damaging and killing nearby crops. In California in 2012, herbicide sprayed in the San Joaquin Valley drifted and damaged cotton fields 100 miles away.

The new corn and soybean varieties are the latest versions of seed technology that have become hugely popular with U.S. farmers.

These latest seed varieties are resistant to stronger herbicides to which the weeds haven’t yet built up resistance.

If the regulatory process continues without hiccups, Dow is about a year away from the first sales of its Enlist corn and soybeans, resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D.

Monsanto is estimated to be about two years away from selling Roundup Ready 2 Extend corn and soy. These are resistant to the herbicide dicamba.

Both herbicides mimic a naturally occurring plant growth hormone. “The plant literally grows itself to death,” said Franklin Egan a research ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

The new seeds will be a boon to conventional soybean and corn farmers. Environmental and organic groups decry a potential increase in the use of herbicides overall. But farmers who trade in broadleaf vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, beans and peas are especially worried.

When the farmers first started hearing about the new GM crops, and the herbicides they would be used with, “it was a huge red flag,” said Save Our Crops’ Smith.

Both 2,4-D and dicamba are known to drift. While today they’re used in relatively small amounts, Dow’s Enlist and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Extend products could easily mean tens of thousands of farmers switching to the new seed to deal with glyphosate-resistant weeds.

The herbicides are applied to fields as a liquid, from rigs pulled by tractors, said USDA’s Egan. “The vast majority falls straight to the ground but a small fraction can move as water droplets carried by the wind. An even smaller fraction can evaporate and move as a gas,” he said.

“It’s like the blob that ate Tokyo,” said Smith. It just oozes along and when it touches down it kills the plants it touches.

Farmers feared with millions more acres being sprayed with these drift-prone chemicals, their vegetable fields will be in danger. While the new genetically modified varieties of corn and soybean will resist the herbicides, their vegetables won’t.

“You have a lot of crops that are sensitive to these herbicides,” said Neil Rhodes, director of the herbicide stewardship program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. With vegetable farmers facing the prospect of a much larger area being sprayed with them in coming years, “I’m not surprised they’re concerned.”

Egan agrees. Vegetable farmers in the Midwest, where large amounts of corn and soybeans are grown, will be at “high risk” because they’ll be in close proximity to fields being sprayed with 2,4-D and dicamba, he said.

Source: Natural Cures Not Medicine


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