The Planted Row: Always follow the label

Farm Forum

So back when I was more active on the family farm, one of the most satisfying feelings was looking over my fields near sunset. The fields were clean and well-ordered. Plants that had evolved since the beginning of life on Earth were growing in perfect rows at the exact spacing required for optimum yield. Weeds and insect pests were dealt with in a timely manner.

At the time, I remember thinking that a farmer was someone who ordered Mother Nature according to his own will, someone who made the physical world into a productive landscape that could provide food and fiber to support human civilization.

I really did feel like the master of nature.

I was an idiot.

I was too young to understand the real power of Mother Nature. What could I have done against a damaging hailstorm, as happened more than once to my crop? Or days upon end of rain, as happened on another occasion?

While those are dramatic examples, I could simply do better with the next crop in a more favorable year. Nature’s most powerful chess moves are much more subtle.

Back then, I’d taken enough biology courses to be aware of the idea of resistance – that an organism could, over time, develop resistance to certain chemicals. However, at that time, Bt cotton was just recently introduced to the market. Resistant worms and resistant weeds seemed like a distant, if not improbable, problem.

Fast forward 20 years, and I have a different perspective.

Fast forward is the right term because the voice behind my eyes still feels 18 years old. It’s the right term because the changes in agriculture over the last 20 years still seem improbable and unexpected.

Twenty years ago, glyphosate was a chemical I sprayed in places I didn’t feel like using a mower, trimmer or disc. I certainly didn’t spray it on growing crops. Not long after that, though, genetically-modified crops entered the scene, and we could spray glyphosate on our crops. Now, 20 years later, those weeds we sprayed with glyphosate have evolved resistance to the popular herbicide.

Never fault capitalism for failing to provide a solution.

Enter dicamba-resistant soybeans.

Monsanto has started to sell a variety of soybeans called “Xtend” which is resistant to the herbicide dicamba. That’s great!

The only problem is that the Environmental Protection Agency has yet to approve Monsanto’s formulation of dicamba, which is otherwise easily vaporized and susceptible to being carried by the wind. Most other soybeans are easily damaged by even low doeses of dicamba. That means if you aren’t growing dicamba-resistant beans and your neighbor sprays dicamba, you could have a serious problem.

According to a recent National Public Radio article ( many farmers are having to deal with just that. Some farmers have decided to grow dicamba-resistant soybeans and spray dicamba on them to take care of glyphsate-resistant Palmer amaranth (known to me as pigweed). The only problem is that their neighbors didn’t grow dicamba-resistant soybeans, and now there are thousands of acres of soybeans damaged by dicamba spray drift.

The Monsanto-designed formulation of dicamba is specifically engineered to vaporize less easily, making drift less of a problem. But since that hasn’t been approved, farmers are using regular dicamba and killing their neighbors’ crops.

I can’t describe how upset I am over this news.

I get it. No farmer likes the EPA. No farmer wants to wait on them to make their decisions and limit choices on the farm. But the EPA isn’t the bad guy. Its purpose isn’t to make a farmer’s life harder. Its purpose is to make sure everyone is protected.

Farming is hard enough without farmers taking matters into their own hands and damaging their neighbor’s crops. Look at the landscape around your place. How many different farms used to be there? How many farms are there now? Farmers are a dwindling breed. Do you want to be responsible for making them even rarer?

Also, what do you think is happening to the weeds in those neighboring fields? They’re getting a low dose of dicamba — not enough to kill them. That only makes it easier for them to breed resistance. The NPR article notes that a scientist starting with a low dose of dicamba on Palmer amaranth found weeds able to withstand full doses of dicamba after a mere three generations.

Follow the label. Use chemicals responsibly. Because Mother Nature is just waiting for the next opportunity laugh in the face of your new favorite herbicide.