Prairie Farmer's Christy Lee takes point on dicamba drift's widening threat

Advertising-supported farm magazines have long taken a... well, a tactful approach to reporting the damage potential of ag chemicals. But this week, Prairie Farmer courageously focused directly on the huge challenge dicamba herbicides face because of damage to high-value crops and urban environments.

Sept. 23, 2018 — Christy Couch Lee's feature published two days ago, "Orchard growers raise dicamba red flags" describes what appears to be dicamba damage to apple trees raised by Flamm Orchards, Union County, Illinois. We recommend you visit this link and read the entire story.

We've often pondered where the "trigger point" of public opinion might impose pain when off-target damage from dicamba and other potent weedkillers encroaches on urban landscapes. Or, when really huge lawsuits hit farmers from growers of high-value crops such as grapes, apples and vegetables. Nor are herbicide manufacturers immune, as Monsanto and now Bayer are learning the hard way.

We've seen farmers endure patiently regarding drift over the years. Some soybean growers are planting dicamba-resistant beans not from choice, but simply for defense against neighbors' drift.  Supposedly, new dicamba formulations and new spraying restrictions were supposed to dramatically drop off-site damage. but in Illinois, state officials report receiving 329 dicamba-related claims this season as of Sept. 17. That's up 37% from a year earlier.

Aaron Hager, University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences associate professor, makes one of the most significant statements in Christy Lee's article:

“This is something the general public is watching closer than I’ve ever seen. It’s attracting a lot of media, and not just the agricultural media,” Hager says. “Reuters and The Washington Post have called me on the topic. The news media isn’t going to focus on soybean yield effects. They’re going to want to know why U.S. agriculture is putting all of these herbicides in the air. And they won’t stop with dicamba.”

Steve Smith, director of agriculture for Red Gold Inc. in Elwood, Ind., has been cautioning farmers about dicamba since 2007. The Prairie Farmer quotes Smith saying, “It’s a real concern that we are going to pay a big price for this, as consumers lose confidence in what farmers are doing,” he says. “Any time agriculture sends the message of being unsafe, we all pay that price.”