The Dicamba Debate: Speculating on an Endgame

The Dicamba Debate: Speculating on an Endgame

At the 2017 PACE Advisory Council meeting, one of the most spirited topics of conversation was the ongoing troubles agriculture is facing with the dicamba cropping systems. Nationwide, experts say that more than 2,200 complaints have been filed with state regulatory agencies regarding off-target dicamba impacting more than 3 million crop acres.

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With all these issues concerning dicamba-tolerant crops in 2017, a question that has repeatedly come up is where does the industry go from here? Here, using an old cliché, the answer right now is clear as mud.

In many ways, the dicamba decision rests with the cropping system’s marketer, Monsanto. Up until now, the St. Louis, MO-based crop protection/seed giant has fought vigorously to defend the technology against its critics. The company has published numerous studies emphasizing the safety of dicamba application when used correctly, released letters from growers and applicators that have successfully used the technology during 2017, and even taken one state agricultural regulatory board (Arkansas) to court when it proposed banning the use of dicamba for crop application past mid-April for the 2018 growing season.

Given these facts, it would appear that Monsanto is prepared to defend dicamba come hell or high water. In fact, critics of the company will likely say that Monsanto is out to protect its profits no matter the cost. However, this seems an unfair speculation. For evidence, consider how Monsanto has handled another one of its recent product launches with issues, NemaStrike.

A new seed treatment technology designed to help grower-customers combat nematodes, NemaStrike has unfortunately caused a limited number of skin rashes and irritation. Therefore, Monsanto has decided to “pause” the introduction of NemaStrike until the company can get a better grip on the situation. “As a company, safety and stewardship are our top priorities,” said Monsanto is an open letter to NemaStrike customers. “We want to ensure that all have the best possible experience with any of our products.”

Of course, the wildcard in all this speculation is Bayer. As the German-based crop protection/seed giant works towards acquiring Monsanto in 2018, the company will most likely continue to support the dicamba cropping system, at least initially. But at some point, does the financial pain of numerous complaints/lawsuits outweigh the financial gains of this technology? That remains an open question for now.

What is clear is that more dicamba-resistant crops will be appearing across the U.S. landscape. According to early projections, approximately 40 million acres of crops using this technology will be planted in 2018. It is hoped by industry experts that with label changes to dicamba products and requirements for more formal application training, off-target issues will be fewer in number for 2018. But as always with issues such as this, two words come to mind: Stay tuned . . .