Renewable Farming

NPR’s Dan Charles reveals weed scientists’ frustrations with dicamba and powerful forces pushing it

Every so often, a major national news story rings with such clarity that I’m not as hesitant to admit that I’m a “used journalist.” National Public Radio’s Dan Charles today posted “Monsanto and the Weed Scientists: Not a Love Story,” which rips off many coverups by the genetic giants pushing the remake of an old herbicide, dicamba.

Dan Charles, writer for NPR

Oct. 26, 2017  By Jerry Carlson — Dicamba damage gets really personal, fast. Several of our clients in Iowa report damage this season, and they dread resorting to legal claims to salvage what they can. Dan’s NPR story exposes the frustrations which several top university and extension weed scientist have fought all summer. I recommend you pause and read his report at this link.  The NPR site also has a “download” button which takes you to a spoken narrative. It could be easier for you to listen to the story than read it if you’re in the pickup or tractor cab.

One of the long-term unintended consequences of the dicamba clash between weed scientists and the major biotech/pesticide companies is the collateral damage to working relationships between public weed scientists and the private corporations. For years, these professionals have maintained a mutually cooperative relationship. We’re not saying the scientists have been flacks for the weedkiller companies. It’s just that chemical weed control has for decades been the mainstream floating countless public research boats into new horizons. 

However, ahead of this season, several weed scientists were denied professional freedom to perform independent field testing of dicamba. Thus they could not check claims by Monsanto and others that the “new” formulations have tamed dicamba’s tendency to volatilize and damage non-target crops far beyond labeled spraying boundaries. Some of the weed specialists challenged the companies. And the firms pushed back. Dan Charles’ report documents how corporate accusations of scientists’ integrity stung not just the smeared scientists, but the entire close-knit community of public weed specialists.

Now, the guardians at EPA in Washington have accepted Monsanto’s label revisions, and plan to extend permission to continue using dicamba formulations in the 2018 seasons. At least some of the scientists anticipate another summer of discontent. Weed scientists fear that they will have to respond to farmers’ anguished damage complaints in 2018 instead of spending their professional time helping farmers with long-term, sustainable weed management.

From our perspective, another season of weed-chemical crisis could — eventually — result in a dramatically positive long-term migration as rising waves of farmers resolve to find other routes to long-term weed management. Routes that are not a dead-end chemical trail toward higher costs, more toxins and increasingly stubborn weed resistance. Thousands of farmers have already chosen that route, and they’re growing more confident that future generations on their land really DO have a future. Thanks, Dan Charles.