But some agricultural researchers and farmers say there’s still a problem, and dicamba continues to be a magnet for class-action lawsuits. These could cover thousands of plaintiffs, according to Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, an agricultural law specialist at Texas A&M University. Meanwhile, rival seed companies
are piling on the pressure: Beck’s Hybrids, the fourth-largest US soybean seed retailer, last month wrote to the EPA asking it to place new restrictions on the application of dicamba. One lawsuit seeks to get dicamba taken off the market altogether. Oral arguments are scheduled for Aug. 29 in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Seattle over whether the US Environmental Protection Agency broke the law in granting the herbicide a two-year registration, which expires in November.
Farmers using dicamba were supposed to avoid drift damage by following instructions written on an “unprecedented” and “byzantine” 16,000-word label, said George Kimbrell, the legal director at the Center for Food Safety, one of four non-profit groups bringing the suit. The EPA may also have violated the Endangered Species Act, Kimbrell said. “After more than seven years of exhaustive scientific review and evaluation, EPA approved XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology for in-crop use,” Bayer AG said in a statement. “Dicamba-based herbicides have a 50-year history of safe use, when applied according to label directions, and we are confident the government’s exhaustive assessment will prevail.”
Monsanto’s Partridge said that such lawsuits are a “recurrent theme” whenever the company brings new technology to the marketplace. The EPA said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. “Our goal is to make a decision in time for growers to make informed seed purchase decisions for the next planting season,” the agency said in an emailed statement.
Bayer lost more than 13 billion euros in market value in the week ended Friday as news
of Roundup-related lawsuits mount. On Aug. 10, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million to a groundskeeper who said Roundup, a four-decade old herbicide based on a chemical called glyphosate, gave him cancer. Monsanto points to more than 800 studies indicating that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. Its parent company plans to appeal the verdict. Bayer also failed to block the state of California from listing Roundup as a known carcinogen. Partridge said the company’s dicamba-resistant soybeans had yields with a 5.7 bushel per acre advantage over a major competitor.
Dicamba is being sold to farmers for use in conjunction with the company’s Xtend GMO soybeans and cotton. For Bayer — which completed its $66 billion acquisition of Monsanto in June and hasn’t yet integrated the companies
-- the loss of Xtend would mean a hit of as much as $400 million to future earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Jonas Oxgaard said in an August research note.
Oxgaard also said in nearly all states that only followed the EPA’s regulations this year, drift complaints were higher. The EPA has to “balance farmers’ needs to manage glyphosate-resistant weeds with other farmers’ need to not have their crops destroyed,” he said.
“The likeliest outcome this year is for the EPA to give a one-year temporary registration, and impose even more stringent requirements,” Oxgaard said. “The likeliest outcome after that is for the registration to be revoked.”
If that happens, it would “derail Monsanto’s plans to roll out dicamba-tolerant seeds throughout the world -- the next step in herbicide tolerance — and destroy a lot of value for new products Monsanto is launching over the next couple of years,” said Chris Perrella, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.