Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the herbicide dicamba could no longer be used in “over the top” applications on soy and cotton.
In a win for farmers across the country, the court found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had approved new uses of this old, drift-prone herbicide without appropriately evaluating the damage the chemical would cause to neighboring farms.
Unfortunately, EPA then directly defied the court order on Monday afternoon, issuing guidance that farmers who had dicamba stocks “in their possession” on the day of the June 3 court order could continue to use the chemical through the end of July.
This unlawful guidance would result in almost another full season of “business as usual” drift damage, since the heaviest use of dicamba comes in early summer. “The Trump administration is again showing it has no regard for the rule of law,” said George Kimbrell, legal director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and lead counsel in the case.
The plaintiffs — National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, CFS and PAN — immediately petitioned the court to enforce the initial ruling, and hold EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in contempt for refusing to follow a court order.
Millions of acres damaged
While the court decision comes at a difficult time for farmers who already have dicamba tolerant crops in the ground, the blame for this lies squarely on EPA officials. The agency repeatedly ignored widespread, well-documented reports of drift damage on farms across the country when it reapproved dicamba use for yet another season.
From 2017 to 2019 farmers reported thousands of dicamba drift episodes causing damage to millions of acres of soybeans that had not been genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba, as well as vegetables, fruit trees, gardens and residential trees.
In ruling the pesticide approval unlawful, the court cited this "enormous and unprecedented damage" that has "torn apart the social fabric of many farming communities.”
They knew it would drift
The devastation also forced many farmers to buy dicamba-tolerant soy seeds even if they were not planning to use the herbicide, to protect their crop from drift damage. In fact, internal documents unearthed through the Bader Farms v Bayer case earlier this year showed that the corporation included sales from this “defensive planting” in their projections.
These corporations knew very well that dicamba would drift.
As PAN senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman noted in a joint press release from the plaintiffs last week:
EPA, Bayer and Corteva knew all along that the highly drift-prone herbicide, dicamba, would cause grave harm to farmers, their livelihoods, crops, surrounding rural communities and landscapes. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen three seasons of devastation that could have been avoided had EPA done its job."
Apparently it takes a court order to force this public agency to do its job — and even then, it’s pushing back. We’re hopeful that with the pending clarification from the court, EPA will take the immediate action needed to block further use of dicamba, and protect farmers from yet another season of crop damage.