Bayer, BASF Weedkillers Cleared by EPA for Another Five Years
By Jacob Bunge
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will extend its
approval of controversial weedkillers for another five years, a
victory for agriculture companies Bayer AG and BASF SE.
The agency said Tuesday its reapproval of dicamba herbicides,
which have been blamed for damaging millions of acres of crops in
recent years, would provide clarity to farmers who say they need
the spray to combat hard-to-kill weeds. Tighter nationwide rules
around when and where the herbicide can be sprayed on farms will
help limit injury to crops and residential gardens, the agency
"We have reached a resolution that is good for our farmers and
our environment," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
The dicamba weedkillers are paired with soybean and cotton seeds
that have been genetically engineered to withstand the spray. The
companies pitch the combination as a way for farmers to defeat
costly weeds like palmer amaranth and marestail that have developed
resistance to other common farm herbicides, like Bayer's
However, dicamba has divided farmers since the companies
released the products about four years ago.
The chemical is prone to evaporating and drifting on the wind,
potentially threatening nearby fields, and state agriculture
departments have received thousands of farmer complaints of crop
damage linked to dicamba. The chemical companies and some farmers
have defended dicamba, saying that their formulations of the
herbicide are less prone to evaporation, and that the sprays can be
controlled by following manufacturers' directions.
In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled
that the EPA overlooked risks to other crops when the agency last
approved the herbicides in 2018, and revoked those approvals. While
that ruling came after many farmers were done spraying dicamba for
the year, it raised pressure on the EPA as the agency considered
granting new dicamba approvals, which were scheduled to be decided
by late 2020.
To help protect vulnerable crops, the EPA said Tuesday it would
prohibit the dicamba herbicides from being applied to soybeans
after June 30, and on cotton after July 30. Those dates are
intended to protect vulnerable crops and vegetation in the middle
of the growing season. The agency also expanded buffer zones around
fields where dicamba is sprayed, and will require farmers to mix
the herbicides with an additional chemical agent designed to better
hold dicamba where it is sprayed.
BASF's U.S. Crop Vice President Scott Kay said the ruling will
help farmers keep their fields clear of weeds and save them
Alex Zenteno, dicamba product manager for Bayer, said that
adding the new chemical agent would help farmers keep control over
dicamba, and that the company would train farmers on the new
Bayer in June agreed to pay up to $400 million to settle
dicamba-related damage claims.
The Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological
Diversity, two environmental groups behind the legal challenge to
the EPA's prior dicamba approval, said they would likely challenge
this one, too.
Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological
Diversity, said the new restrictions proposed by the EPA were
unlikely to curb damage, partly because many farmers are already
done spraying dicamba by the EPA's new cutoff dates.
"It doesn't seem like the EPA has learned their lesson, and it
doesn't seem like they are complying with the order of the court,"
Mr. Donley said.
Write to Jacob Bunge at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 27, 2020 19:49 ET (23:49 GMT)
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