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Pesticide critics: dicamba episode marks 'choice point'

Kristin Schafer, left, executive director of group called Pesticide Action Network, with offices in Berkley, Calif., and Denise O’Brien, PAN board chairman and organic farmer from southwest Iowa, confer Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference and trade show in LaCrosse, Wis., on Feb. Feb. 23. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service

LaCROSSE, Wis. — The dicamba volatilization controversy in rural America is a new top-of-mind target for those who already criticize pesticide use.

Kristin Schafer, executive director of a group called Pesticide Action Network, was one of the speakers Feb. 23 at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference and trade show in LaCrosse.

PAN North America has special emphasis in California, Hawaii, Minnesota and Iowa, 120,000 supporters in North America and is supported by foundations and organizations.

Schafer and Denise O'Brien, PAN's board chairman, an organic vegetable grower in southwest Iowa, talked about dicamba as a centerpiece of a seminar on pesticide drift issues at the three-day MOSES conference.

O'Brien said she's concerned about financial incentives and rebates being offered by chemical manufacturers to help conventional farmers make an even quicker shift toward dicamba-resistant crops in 2018.

Whack-a-mole

Schafer said the reason dicamba formulations were introduced in the first place was to counteract weed resistance from the overuse of Roundup (glyphosate) and other herbicide classes.

"Now there are super weeds no longer controllable with glyphosate, which is the active ingredient for Roundup," she said.

PAN is part of a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency saying the dicamba formulations shouldn't have been approved in the first place.

"Given what the science shows about how volatile the chemical is, it directly predicted the damage that we saw last season and that the decision to approve it was unlawful," Schafer said.

She said that the more widespread dicamba or any herbicide is, the more likely there will be resistance as weeds evolve. She said weed scientists are projecting that widespread use of the dicamba could create newly resistant weeds in as few as three years.

"To us, it raises a question whether this model is working for farmers," she said. She noted that 3.6 million acres of non-dicamba soybeans were damaged from dicamba in the 2017 growing season. She said specialty crops and horticultural plantings may also have been injured.

She couldn't say to what extent soybean yields or production were actually reduced, but said PAN is working with Iowa farm groups to describe the losses.

And children

PAN focuses on communities "most affected by industrial agriculture," Schafer said, noting that the priorities are on small family farmers, farm workers and rural and indigenous communities — and children.

"We're trying to increase investment that would move us toward a system where we wouldn't have 1 billion pounds of pesticide a year used in our farms across the country," she said. "There is a lot of evidence that we don't need to be using as many chemicals as we are now."

Organic experts say that only about 5 to 7 percent of Americans would have food if it were produced by current organic production, which doesn't use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, among other things. Other parts of the MOSES conference addressed concerns about an alarming increase in fake organic imports that fraudulently expand U.S. organic meat, poultry and dairy production and suppress prices to a level that U.S. producers can't compete.