Bayer, BASF Ordered to Pay $265 Million in Weedkiller Crop-Damage Suit
By Jacob Bunge
A jury ruled against Bayer AG and BASF SE in a crop-damage case,
awarding $265 million to a Missouri peach farmer who claimed the
companies encouraged farmers to irresponsibly spray a
Peach farmer Bill Bader sued the pesticide-and-seed makers after
he said thousands of his fruit trees sustained damage in 2015 and
2016. The damage, he alleged, was caused by a herbicide called
dicamba that drifted from neighboring cotton fields, planted with
dicamba-resistant biotech seeds developed by Bayer and BASF.
The legal battle over dicamba deepens Bayer's legal troubles
over its top-selling herbicides. The Bader Farms Inc. case was the
first involving dicamba to go to trial and a bellwether for about
35 similar lawsuits filed by farmers seeking damages in Illinois,
Arkansas, Missouri and other states.
The ruling in a federal court in Missouri on Saturday comes as
the Environmental Protection Agency is set to decide by the end of
this year whether farmers will continue to be allowed to spray the
companies' dicamba-based herbicides on crops.
Bayer separately is fighting more than 42,000 plaintiffs
claiming its biggest-selling herbicide, Roundup, caused their
cancer. The company has argued that decades of scientific research,
as well as reviews by regulators including the EPA, prove Roundup's
safety. Bayer has lost the first three cases to go to trial, and is
appealing those rulings.
A Bayer spokesman said that the company planned to appeal the
Bader Farms verdict, and that dicamba remains a valuable tool for
farmers that can be used safely. A BASF spokeswoman said the
company would consider its legal options and keep working with
farmers to mitigate dicamba-related crop damage.
Lawyers for Mr. Bader had no immediate comment. Don Downing, an
attorney with law firm Gray, Ritter & Graham P.C. who is
representing other plaintiffs suing the companies over dicamba
damage, said the verdict will encourage other farmers to file
The judgment awarded to Mr. Bader represented $15 million in
damages to compensate Mr. Bader for losses sustained from dicamba
damage and $250 million in punitive damages.
BASF and Monsanto Co., the biotech seed giant Bayer acquired for
$63 billion in 2018, developed their dicamba-based herbicides and
related biotech seeds to help make up for Roundup's waning power to
kill some weeds. Monsanto's introduction in the 1990s of biotech
crops engineered to withstand Roundup made it the default weed
spray for Midwestern farmers, but also led weeds to evolve to
survive it. That forced farmers to eventually supplement Roundup
with other, more potent herbicides.
Dicamba has been shown in university field trials and farm
research to be prone to evaporating off fields where it is sprayed
and drifting, posing a threat to nearby crops, trees and
residential gardens. Bayer and BASF have said their new
formulations of the herbicide, called XtendiMax and Engenia, hold
better to where they are sprayed.
The companies began marketing dicamba-resistant seeds in 2015,
before the EPA had approved the companies' related herbicides,
according to Mr. Bader's complaint. Mr. Bader alleged that by
selling those seeds before regulators approved the new dicamba
herbicides, Bayer and BASF knowingly gave farmers an incentive to
illegally spray the dicamba-resistant crops with older forms of
dicamba, which more easily evaporate and drift.
"Monsanto took numerous steps to mitigate, and warn about,
potential risks associated with its products," a Bayer spokesman
Mr. Bader runs what he estimated in court documents to be
Missouri's biggest peach farm, producing some 5 million pounds of
the fruit annually. Damage to his trees from nearby spraying cost
him hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales, and lab tests
by state agricultural officials confirmed dicamba symptoms, he
Bayer and BASF contested those claims, arguing that crop
disease, severe weather and other herbicides caused the damage, in
addition to Mr. Bader's own mismanagement. Bayer officials have
attributed most dicamba damage complaints in recent years to
farmers' own spraying errors.
Farmers and weed scientists over the past four years have blamed
XtendiMax and other dicamba-based herbicides for damaging millions
of acres of soybeans and other crops.
Steve Smith, senior director of agriculture for Indiana tomato
company Red Gold Inc., for years has sought tighter dicamba
restrictions and testified on Mr. Bader's behalf in the Missouri
trial, saying that Bayer and BASF ignored the risks of their
dicamba-based crop systems.
"I hope that the regulatory agencies will take a look at what
was proved in this case and react," Mr. Smith said.
Despite some farmers' complaints, the EPA in 2018 reapproved
Bayer and BASF's dicamba herbicides for a two-year period, while
tightening rules for how they can be sprayed.
Write to Jacob Bunge at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 15, 2020 14:56 ET (19:56 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.