great article about the social implications of pesticide use

posted November 4, 2017

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“We live and die by chemical agriculture”. In the age of rampant use of chemicals such as the dreaded dicamba, truer words have perhaps never been spoken. Zachary Michael Jack, Iowa View contributor recently writes in the Des Moines Register about stark contrast between pesticide and herbicide spraying in the 80’s during his childhood versus the situation today. In times past, farmers applied chemicals to their crops when the winds was calm, and neighbours knew even then to bring their children inside away lest they be exposed to these toxic clouds.

“Sadly, the common-sense, Golden Rule honor code that held sway in the fields each spring in my 1980s Iowa boyhood no longer holds. And for those of us who still live on the farm but don’t engage in chemical-intensive large-scale farming, the results are both toxic and terrifying. Farmers now routinely spray their seasonal herbicides in winds so fierce even private pilots think twice about taking off. We watch as wind-driven clouds of chemicals drift across our fields and into our children’s lungs, onto our plants and trees, and, through the cracks and fissures of our old farmhouses, right into our very homes.”

As formerly rural populations have become increasingly urbanised, chemical hungry crops have become the dominant life-form and rural human populations are suffering from higher mortality levels as a result. Jack goes as far as describing those relocating to urban and suburban areas as rural refugees. And yet he does not call for these farmers, generally good, down to earth people, to cease their spraying, but rather makes a poignant plea that they reinstate the golden rule honor code out of concern not for himself, but for the rural children who have no choice but to breathe this chemical laden air.

Click HERE to read the full article on the Des Moines Register.


citizen science vs. dicamba

posted October 29, 2017

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credit: 지우 황/flickr 
This citizen science group at PublicLab is starting to corral expertise, team-craft and discover potential scientific inquiry methodologies to look at this terrifying trend of toxic and ever more toxic agrichemicals. Conventional farmers, as well as organic farmers, are profoundly concerned by this militarization of agronomy, it becoming a situation of “Spray or be Sprayed”. How tragic for rural communities that those who spray are likely to be those who also take over the operations of those drifted upon. Low commodities prices, high input costs, and precarious farm viability means that consolidation is only one bad year away—equipment for auction, land for sale, its the brutal contraction and internal colonization of rural America.
 Meanwhile there is no regulatory protection offered as the EPA has approved the new “less volatile” Monsanto-formulated Dicamba. The mass-spraying of these chemicals, particularly now that EU has opted to phase out Roundup, seems like a powerful leverage point to mobilize citizens, and citizen scientists working on behalf of the public good, the public trust, the public body which is our watershed, our watercycle, our drinking water and our farmlands.
If you know people near soybeans who can test, if you know toxicologists or environmental scientists who might be interested to coordinate DIY testing kits, or others whose teamwork could form part of a solidarity action, please send them along to this Public Lab page – it’s a group that helps pull together the teams needed to take on large scale data collection projects.  If enough people are willing to show up, we may have the chance to demonstrate our solidarity with coming generations, and engage in a meaningful resistance!
Spread the word to scientists you know, and ask for insights from farmers you know, the future is in OUR hands.

monsanto sues arkansas over dicamba ban

posted October 28, 2017

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credit: flickr/Alternative Heat

In the most recent development in the dicamba scandal Monsanto have filed a lawsuit in Arkansas’ Pulaski County Circuit Court, suing state regulators for blocking dicamba for the 2018 growing season. The herbicide is controversial to say the least, increasing yields in resistant crops but simultaneously killing all other life in the region through drift which subsequently caused serious conflict between neighbours. Monsanto’s argument basically claims that the states ban is depriving Arkansas’ farmers. However many farmers are compelled to use the weedkiller only in a bid to keep up with their neighbours. It’s a race to the toxic bottom.

“The weeds have become so difficult to manage that some farmers don’t see any way that they control them without this,” says Bob Hartzler, a weed specialist at Iowa State University. “If you feel that way then you’re probably willing to take on some higher-level risk.”

Dicamba was introduced to the market because Monsanto’s previous money maker RoundUp has become ineffective against many weeds as they have adapted over decades of exposure. This line of argumentation in favour of adoption of the even more toxic dicamba isn’t particularly convincing as far as I am concerned irrespective of Monsanto’s safety claims.

Unlike glyphosate… dicamba comes with a major liability: it tends to combust in conditions of high heat. That’s why no one has really used it, even though the chemical has been around for years—until Monsanto’s low-volatility version promised to change that. But some evidence suggests that XtendiMax may be more unstable than Monsanto acknowledges. There have been widespread reports of crop damage—as many as 1,000 in Arkansas this year so far, according to the Associated Press. Conventional (non-modified) soybeans are extremely sensitive to dicamba, and farmers are alleging that their fields are being damaged by their neighbors’ applications.

To read the full article click HERE.


bad news for those of you following the dicamba issue…

posted October 21, 2017

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The EPA has finally announced its decision on dicamba last week. The department, headed by Scott Pruitt has decided to allow farmers to continue to spray the weed killer on Monsanto soybean and cotton crops. With increasingly widespread use of roundup and other weed killers, many invasive weeds have become resistant over time. Dicamba is marketed as a product that can replace these now ineffective weed killers. There is no mention of what is to happen when Dicamba also fails to be an effective weedkiller, although if we keep spraying our food and environments with poison, we may not be around to have to contend with this problem. (After all, there is significant evidence to suggest that the use of pesticides over the last few decades has lead to a rapid increase in colony collapse and pollinator deaths.)

The use of dicamba is not just a problem for the animals and people who end up as the eventual consumers, or for the farmer who chose to employ it on their land. It’s toxicity be confined within the borders of a particular piece of land and there is a huge risk of drift into neighbouring farms. Diamba cannot be contained just the latest EPA regulations are a feeble attempt to do just that. This is the text of their October 13th press release:

EPA has reached an agreement with Monsanto, BASF and DuPont on measures to further minimize the potential for drift to damage neighboring crops from the use of dicamba formulations used to control weeds in genetically modified cotton and soybeans. New requirements for the use of dicamba “over the top” (application to growing plants) will allow farmers to make informed choices for seed purchases for the 2018 growing season.

“Today’s actions are the result of intensive, collaborative efforts, working side by side with the states and university scientists from across the nation who have first-hand knowledge of the problem and workable solutions,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Our collective efforts with our state partners ensure we are relying on the best, on-the-ground, information.”

In a series of discussions, EPA worked cooperatively with states, land-grant universities, and the pesticide manufacturers to examine the underlying causes of recent crop damage in the farm belt and southeast.  EPA carefully reviewed the available information and developed tangible changes to be implemented during the 2018 growing season. This is an example of cooperative federalism that leads to workable national-level solutions.

Manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to label changes that impose additional requirements for “over the top” use of these products next year including:

  • Classifying products as “restricted use,” permitting only certified applicators with special training, and those under their supervision, to apply them; dicamba-specific training for all certified applicators to reinforce proper use;
  • Requiring farmers to maintain specific records regarding the use of these products to improve compliance with label restrictions;
  • Limiting applications to when maximum wind speeds are below 10 mph (from 15 mph) to reduce potential spray drift;
  • Reducing the times during the day when applications can occur;
  • Including tank clean-out language to prevent cross contamination; and
  • Enhancing susceptible crop language and record keeping with sensitive crop registries to increase awareness of risk to especially sensitive crops nearby.

Manufacturers have agreed to a process to get the revised labels into the hands of farmers in time for the 2018 use season. EPA will monitor the success of these changes to help inform our decision whether to allow the continued “over the top” use of dicamba beyond the 2018 growing season. When EPA registered these products, it set the registrations to expire in 2 years to allow EPA to change the registration, if necessary.

EPA Website 

These new regulations do not address the issues of drift in any substantial way. Farmer David Wildy, who has first hand experience of having his soy crops destroyed by Dicamba drift from a neighbouring farm, in an interview with NPR earlier this month spoke about how Dicamba use is dividing rural communities. The inability for farmers to control the drift in any meaningful sense means that there is no guarantee that neighbours will not have their crops and livelihood destroyed (not to mention the toxic  effects that it has on wildlife ecosystems, soil and water health, and human health).

Most worryingly, as the risk from drift increases, more and more farmers in cotton and soy farming regions will be more increasingly likely to adopt Dicamba resistant crops and subsequently adopt Dicamba as a means of weed control. Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy unsurprisingly welcomed the new regulations and expects the use of Dicamba to double this coming year as a result.