Renewable Farming

Some weed scientists distance themselves from Monsanto’s defensive efforts to preserve dicamba approval

Today’s St.Louis Post-Dispatch reports: “Monsanto Co. invited dozens of weed scientists to a summit this week to win backing for a controversial herbicide. But many have declined, threatening the company’s efforts to convince regulators the product is safe to use.”

Sept. 27, 2017 By Jerry Carlson One scientist who has reportedly declined to attend Monsanto’s meeting this week is Prof. Jason K. Norsworthy, who holds the Elms Chair of Weed Science at the University of Arkansas.

You can read the St.Louis Post-Dispatch article by Tom Polansek of Reuters at this link.

 A few months ago I met Dr. Norsworthy at a seminar in Des Moines, where he presented a very insightful analysis of herbicide “resistance” in weeds. I came away respecting Dr. Norsworthy as one of the most careful — and candid — scientists in his field. 

The news article reports that Monsanto had earlier questioned the objectivity of Norsworthy and colleague Ford Baldwin — for supposedly having ties with Bayer AG. University of Arkansas spokesperson Mary Hightower commented, “With Monsanto questioning the integrity of our science, we felt it was best not to participate.” Here’s a link to a report on that controversy.

Fortune’s website also picked up a revised version of the Reuters report. Here’s a link to that somewhat more detailed story.

Other published reports document that Monsanto disallowed some university researchers from independent field studies testing the volatility of its latest dicamba formulation.

Around the nation, weed scientists in several states are scrambling to record and document hundreds of farmers’ reports claiming dicamba drift damage. It’s a major story on ag websites. One of our clients in north central Iowa told us 250 acres of his soybeans suffered moderate to total loss from dicamba drift. The source, he says, could only have been from either or both of two farms in his area. “I really don’t want to have to get a lawyer for this,” he says.  Our client and friend told us that earlier at a farm show, he visited a Monsanto booth and quipped to the sales staff: “Is this the right place to file my dicamba damage claim?”

He said the Monsanto sales team reacted with stony faces. “They didn’t think that was funny,” he recalled.

Meanwhile across the nation, Monsanto indicates it will challenge a partial ban by Arkansas officials on use of dicamba herbicide formulations in 2018. And several lawsuits against Monsanto are accumulating. Legal firms are on the scent, seeking participants in class action lawsuits against the company. Here’s a link to one such “invitation.” Such lawsuits will require expert testimony — especially from weed specialists who are independent from those who’ve conducted field studies paid for by the company. 

The dicamba lawsuits are building alongside another array of claims against Monsanto, such as those arguing that glyphosate is a causative factor in non-Hodgkin lymphoma and several kinds of Leukemia. Although Monsanto has an armada of attorneys, legal scraps are a severe distraction from a positive marketing message. Last year, a St. Louis jury determined that compensation was due three plaintiffs who claimed PCB compounds made by Monsanto caused their cancers. Monsanto was ordered to pay $46.5 million.

Wading through a legal swamp is not a weed scientist’s favorite job description. It detracts from looking for longer-term solutions to one of your major challenges: Intensifying weed resistance to herbicides.  Dr. Norsworthy told me at the seminar in Des Moines last winter that he has demonstrated the development of palmer amaranth resistance to Liberty herbicide “in the greenhouse, in just three generations of weeds.”

And if more and more weed scientists back away from Monsanto’s legal battles, it makes the company’s marketing job much more complex as well as weakening their legal defenses.

Certainly, weed “resistance” evidence is all around us. Just down our country road, every GMO soybean plant in the field shown below had shut down and shed its leaves in early September — well ahead of expected senescence. But many “resistant” weeds remained green despite two sprayings of the GMO-linked herbicide. Their billions of seeds will be ready to germinate next year… and for years to come.