Illegal herbicide use may threaten survival of Missouri’s largest peach farm

Investigators from the Missouri Department of Agriculture continue to search for an official diagnosis of a problem causing damage to crops in southeastern Missouri and beyond, including the farm responsible for more than half of the state’s annual peach harvest.

But Bill Bader, owner of the Campbell peach farm, says he believes he is one of many area farmers victimized by dicamba, a drift-prone herbicide suspected of causing the widespread damage.

The problem has reached a fever pitch in the Bootheel, where more than 100 complaints of drift have been reported since late June — exceeding the Department of Agriculture’s usual statewide caseload for an entire year. Kevin Bradley, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri and a lead agricultural extension scientist, said that everything he’s seen suggests dicamba is responsible for crop damage on farms across the area, though he has not observed Bader’s case firsthand.

Bader blames the problem on people he calls “dicamba outlaws” — area farmers suspected of unauthorized or “off-label” use of the herbicide.

Though dicamba has been around for decades, new technology is bringing it to the fore as weeds develop greater resistance to glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup.

To combat them, Monsanto, the Creve Coeur-based biotech seed company, released genetically modified cotton that is resistant to dicamba in 2015 and, this year, started selling a variety of dicamba-resistant soybeans. But the company’s corresponding dicamba herbicide is still awaiting EPA approval — leaving farmers without a complete package of products.

For Bader, the farm’s typical harvest of 5 million to 6 million pounds may be reduced by 40 percent this year, amounting to a loss of produce worth $1.5 million to $2 million.

Read more: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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