© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri Department Of Agriculture Has Hundreds Of Unresolved Pesticide Complaints

Dicamba graphic
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Department of Agriculture wants to hire more investigators to help resolve about 600 pesticide complaints.

Missouri agriculture officials are struggling to address a backlog of complaints from farmers who allege that dicamba-based herbicide drift from another farm has damaged their crops. 

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has about 600 pending pesticide investigations. Some of them date back to 2016, the year that Bayer-owned Monsanto began selling its dicamba-tolerant soybeans. 

State legislators are considering a budget request the state agriculture agency made last week to hire more staff to help address complaints.

“We had a team that was the right size for an average year of around 100 complaints, and the number of them coming in has been the No. 1 complicating factor,” said Sami Jo Freeman, the agriculture department’s communications director.

The department wants to add four investigators and two staff members who will review cases. Many investigations haven’t been closed because they need to be reviewed, Freeman said. Other states are also having difficulty addressing dicamba-related complaints and have asked the Environmental Protection Agency for help. 

Hot weather can cause dicamba herbicides to drift for miles from one farm and damage crops on another farm. While farmers have been using dicamba for more than 50 years, Monsanto’s release of dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans led to increased use of dicamba-based herbicides. 

Since 2016, the department has received 755 dicamba-related complaints. The complaints peaked at 315 in 2017, then fell to 220 in 2018 and 98 in 2019. 

A recent survey conducted by University of Missouri weed scientists found that many Missouri farmers are not reporting dicamba-related damages to the state. 

“Dicamba fatigue has settled in; just because there aren’t reports to [the Missouri Department of Agriculture] doesn’t mean there still aren’t major issues,” Mizzou scientist Kevin Bradley noted in a presentation about the survey’s findings. 

State agriculture officials in 2018 prohibited farmers in Missouri’s bootheel region from using BASF’s dicamba-based herbicide Engenia after June 1. The Environmental Protection Agency also imposed restrictions on dicamba use later that year, but weed scientists doubted that the federal restrictions would be effective

A trial over Dunklin County peach farmer Bill Bader’s allegations that Monsanto and BASF’s dicamba-based products damaged his crops is underway in federal court in Cape Girardeau. 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.