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EPA approves Monsanto's less-volatile form of dicamba herbicide

EPA approves Monsanto's less-volatile form of dicamba herbicide

From the Dicamba coverage by the Post-Dispatch series

Although the harvest has already come in for the first crop of dicamba-resistant soybeans, on Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency approved the low-volatility form of the herbicide dicamba intended to be used with genetically-modified soy and cotton.

While dicamba is decades old, Monsanto’s new dicamba-based XtendiMax herbicide is said to be less prone to vaporizing and drifting off target.

Monsanto spokesperson Kyel Richard said that the company still needs to secure approval from individual states before the product can be marketed to farmers. But he says the company plans to have it available by the start of next growing season.

“We’ll be able to roll out the product for 2017,” said Richard, adding that the company projects national sales next year for 15 million acres of dicamba-resistant soybeans and 3 million acres of cotton.

The company released Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton in 2015 and this year introduced Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. Both crop varieties are genetically engineered to resist dicamba, but without approval for the corresponding form of the herbicide, many farmers are suspected of using illegal, “off-label” versions of the herbicide.

Any illegal spraying has left resistant fields unharmed but is believed to have caused widespread crop damage throughout southeast Missouri and neighboring states, contributing to financial hardship and even deadly violence as tensions rise between farmers.

With or without approval of the new herbicide, some affected farmers have indicated they will be forced to switch to dicamba-resistant varieties as an insurance policy for future growing seasons. Some also question whether the release of the new, less-volatile variety will put an end to damage from drift, as scofflaw farmers may still be inclined to use off-label varieties if they are a cheaper alternative.

Richard said that Monsanto could not discuss pricing of the new product until it is approved by an initial state.

Others argue that the new dicamba product fails to address the underlying problem of promoting the eventual rise of herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

“We can’t spray our way out of this problem. We need to get off the pesticide treadmill,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a prepared statement. “Pesticide resistant superweeds are a serious threat to our farmers, and piling on more pesticides will just result in superweeds resistant to more pesticides. We can’t fight evolution — it’s a losing strategy.”

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