Several years ago, I remember reading one classic Far Side that has stuck with me to this day. The cartoon showed two deer standing in a field, with one having a bull’s-eye on his chest. “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal,” read the caption.
Given current events, I’m sure there are many companies that play in the crop protection products space that can relate to this imagery. Now by its nature, this industry does invite opponents and criticism from many directions. However, the number of moving targets with bull’s-eyes on them seems to get larger each and every day as 2021 speeds to a close.
Of course, not surprisingly, the highest profile of these targets has been the industry’s most popular product — glyphosate. For several years now, lawsuits brought against this herbicide have resulted in multi-million-dollar judgements.
The ripple effect for has been far-reaching indeed. Now, many countries around the world such as Vietnam have outright banned glyphosate use within their borders, while others such as France are vowing to do so as well in the next few years. Even more telling, glyphosate producer Bayer CropScience has announced it will remove its popular glyphosate-based Roundup brand from consumer markets over the next few years to “lesson the potential for future litigation.”
Then there is dicamba. Although this herbicide has been around since 1942, more widespread usage since 2017 as resistant cropping systems were introduced has led to numerous off-target application lawsuits, not to mention efforts to have newer dicamba formulations removed from the market entirely (which did occur briefly during mid-2020, before regulatory re-registration took place in October of that year). All this courtroom back-and-forth convinced at least one dicamba manufacturer, Corteva Agriscience, to exit the market completely at the start of 2021.
And the targets keep coming. This past August, EPA revoked all tolerances for chlorpyrifos in food, effectively banning the substance in agriculture. Though the use of the substance has been in decline, it is still one of the most widely used insecticides in the U.S., and it could provide the ammunition for regulators to further scrutinize the organophosphate class.
With so many “hit” targets among crop protection products in recent years, industry opponents can be expected to continue aiming for more over the next few years.
And then there’s paraquat. A popular herbicide since the early 1960s, paraquat has nonetheless had health and safety questions surrounding it for many years. In fact, the substance has been banned for use in the European Union since 2007, and many manufacturers expect the U.S. to follow suit in the next few years as well.
So, it’s pretty clear that the crop protection industry will have a target on its back for some time to come. As the Far Side deer observed: “Bummer of a birthmark.”