Early in June I noticed curled leaves on all the trees and bushes by a road in my neighborhood. Though I suspected it was caused by herbicide I was puzzled that other plants were not brown and dead. Why would someone use an herbicide that maimed but didn't kill? I forgot about it until I saw a photo of soybeans that looked the same way.
This summer, farmers from Arkansas to Ohio and North Dakota have experienced crop loss from a new formulation of the herbicide dicamba. Dicamba has been used for a long time but this spring Monsanto, BASF and DuPont reformulated it for use with new genetically engineered dicamba-resistant soybeans.
The problem is this: If your neighbor plants the new soybeans your fields could be affected. The new dicamba volatilizes (evaporates) from the soil and leaves where it's applied and drifts as much as half a mile causing crop loss and low yield in everything else including non-resistant soybeans, tomatoes, watermelons, grapes, pumpkins and other vegetables.
At first affected farmers were reluctant to report a problem caused by their neighbors but crop losses have been so severe -- up to 80% -- that Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee placed restrictions on dicamba use this summer and many have asked EPA to reconsider its approval.
I'll never know if dicamba was used in my neighborhood but I know now that an herbicide can do this.
Meanwhile the leaves are still in distress. I took these photos last week.
(photos by Kate St. John)