A jury ruled over the weekend that the agrichemical corporations Bayer and BASF should pay $250 million in punitive damages and $15 million in compensatory damages to farmer Bill Bader.
Bader is a peach farmer in Campbell, Missouri, and took the corporations to court after over 30,000 of his trees were damaged due to drifting of the herbicide dicamba, a product developed by Bayer (which purchased Monsanto in 2018) and BASF.
The tip of the iceberg
This victory is one to celebrate, but this case doesn’t exist in isolation. There is a long queue of farmers impacted by dicamba drift who are waiting for their day in court.
Monsanto (now Bayer) developed dicamba-resistant seeds called Xtend to be planted in conjunction with the use of the dicamba formulation Xtendimax. From its inception, the Xtend crop system has caused problems for all kinds of farmers. From soybeans and cotton without the dicamba-resistant trait, to specialty crops like peaches and broccoli, drifting dicamba has created a far-reaching crisis. Ins 2019, cases of dicamba drift were up in Indiana, Arkansas, Iowa and Illinois.
What they knew
Dicamba simply doesn’t stay put, no matter how it’s applied. Farmers have known this for years — and it appears Bayer and BASF knew it as well.
In Bader’s trial, internal documents came to light that showed that Bayer and BASF anticipated issues of off-target movement before releasing new formulations of dicamba, and projected “defensive planting” sales to farmers. They knew dicamba would drift, and their nefarious solution was to sell resistant seeds to farmers as a way to protect crops from that inevitable drift.
The internal documents uncovered in this case show that the company released a highly destructive and intentionally untested product onto the market, and used its influence to cheat the regulatory system. While farmers who don’t use the Xtend system are hit with crop damage and yield loss from dicamba drift, Bayer and BASF are reaping the financial gains of an increase in acreage planted to dicamba-resistant soybeans, and an increase in use of dicamba formulations.
Bader’s lawyers successfully argued this exact point — that dicamba’s rise to prominence did not just coincide with rising damage reports, but actually was helped by them, as farmers felt pressure to adopt the new Xtend crop system to avoid harm.
Lawyers recommended that the jury award punitive damages of $200 million, equal to 2.5% of Bayer’s net worth to deter the corporation from continued behavior that hurts farmers while they collect profits. This comes on the heels of juries awarding over $2.3 billion in damages to plaintiffs in several lawsuits over another harmful Bayer product — glyphosate.
Bayer and BASF’s response to the jury’s order in Bader’s case? The initial $15 million in compensatory damages awarded the previous day were “already resonating” with the company, and that they had “no intent to harm anybody” with their actions. Please.
Bader Farms’ victory in this case signals a turning tide, and opens opportunities for more farmers to hold Bayer and BASF legally accountable for the dicamba drift crisis more broadly.