Family Farmers Applaud Ruling, Recognize Challenges

NFFCPress Room

Dicamba damaged five million acres of crops and trees in two years

National Family Farm Coalition applauded the ruling this week by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the pesticide dicamba as a win for farmers and rural communities. The court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 approval of the pesticide was unlawful, and disallowed its use. Nearly five million acres of crops and trees were damaged or destroyed by dicamba drift in 2017 and 2018. 

Jim Goodman, NFFC board president and retired organic dairy farmer, said, “If nothing else, this ruling states that the precautionary principle of doing no harm must be respected. Farmers, consumers, wildlife and the environment must be protected and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has taken a step in that direction.”  

Dicamba has been used as an agricultural herbicide for over 50 years, but with limited use in recent decades because of its well-known tendency to vaporize and drift, damaging nearby crops. Monsanto (now Bayer) reformulated the chemical to reduce its volatility and developed soybean and cotton seeds genetically modified to withstand it. EPA first approved this “new use” of dicamba in 2017, despite warnings from many experts. In practice, the reformulation did little to reduce harm from the chemical, as millions of acres of non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton, as well as vegetables, fruit trees, and other vegetation were damaged by nearby dicamba use. 

NFFC, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in 2019 after EPA renewed registration of the chemical for Monsanto, BASF and Corteva Agriscience in November 2018. 

While the decision is a victory for many farmers and rural communities impacted by dicamba drift, it also leaves farmers invested in dicamba-tolerant (DT) cropping systems in a challenging position this year. Many farmers were essentially forced to switch to DT crops because the risk of drift damage to non-DT crops was too great; a position the court called “coercion” by Monsanto, with “anti-competitive effects” on the industry. More broadly, the court also stated that, “…EPA entirely failed to recognize the enormous social cost to farming communities where use of dicamba herbicides had turned farmer against farmer, and neighbor against neighbor.”

Widespread use of genetically engineered (GE) seeds has diminished the variety of non-GE seeds available and overall biodiversity, created hundreds of herbicide-resistant superweeds, and caused unreasonable harm to non-target species. With this decision, NFFC sees opportunities to reduce the corporate control over seeds and other essential inputs, to enhance agricultural diversity through agroecological solutions, and to rebuild farm and rural communities devastated by industrialized agriculture.