Related: Dicamba Lawsuit
Monsanto’s Poison Products
Only one thing is certain: Monsanto’s poison products were at the center of the conflict that led to Mr. Wallace’s murder. He and most of his neighbors had used Monsanto’s Roundup themselves over many years. Too many years. So many years that pigweed evolved to resist the poison. It had become nearly impossible to kill. Pigweed is every farmer’s mortal enemy. It can destroy entire fields. Monsanto’s answer to the pigweed problem was to pour more poison on it. (This is chemical farming 101; when one type of poison no longer works, use more of it, then use another. It is a toxic, insane cycle that cannot, in the long run, benefit the land, animals, or the people who live off it.) The other, bigger problem that never goes away with chemical farming is that Monsanto’s poison had caused the problem in the first place. Mike Wallace’s neighbor had begun to use Dicamba to kill his own pigweed. But Mr. Wallace’s crops had not been genetically engineered to withstand Dicamba; so it began to kill them.
Roundup Dependence Bites Farmers
Mr. Wallace’s “crop consultant,” Dave Pierce, told NPR in June 2017: “Roundup made a lot of people good farmers. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chemistry. I mean, we depended on it for years and years. And we depended on it too much.”
“Too much,” said Marianne McCune of NPR, “because after a decade or so, the pigweed did its own genetic morphing and became immune to Roundup.”
Then two years ago, the big chemical companies unveiled a new GMO seed to go with a new/old Monsanto poison called Dicamba. But the new Dicamba spray concoction that Monsanto planned to sell with the seeds wasn’t approved. Some farmers, meanwhile, had an old formulation of Dicamba, one especially prone to drift onto neighboring fields.
The murdered farmer’s cousin, Maleisa Finch, told NPR that farmers had always dealt with some drift, but had always just talked it out, and amicably paid one another for any damages.
But talking didn’t work for Dicamba, Ms. McCune reported, because it was illegal to spray the old Dicamba formulation during growing season. Once farmers started planting Dicamba-tolerant seeds, they saw pigweed invading their fields, and started spraying Dicamba.
Question: Why was Monsanto selling seed before the new Dicamba was approved? Did the company think farmers would buy seed without using it? Was Monsanto unaware that farmers had old Dicamba formulations and would use them?
Ms. McCune said, “When Mike saw the leaves on some of his cotton curling and puckering from Dicamba, he, like many farmers, filed a complaint with the Plant Board. They’re like the pesticide police. And they tracked the cause of Mike’s damage to a neighboring farmer, Donald Masters.”
Ms. McCune spoke with Donald’s son Douglas about the Plant Board’s visit to the Masters’ farm in search of Dicamba. Douglas said, “[E]verybody got in trouble.” He laughed when she asked if he knew he wasn’t supposed to be spraying it.
Then Mr. Masters said, “It goes back to economics.” He explained that, “Farmers take out huge loans every year to pay for seeds, pesticides and everything else. And with crop prices low, their profit margins are very thin.” So when the pigweed started threatening his crops, he needed a “cheap and effective solution,” he said. Dicamba was his only option left, he said.
Then she spoke with Donald Masters. The patriarch of the Masters clan admitted to spraying Dicamba, even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to.
“Why’d I do it?” said Mr. Masters. “Because I’ve got weeds you can’t kill otherwise. But anyway, I paid the fine – and supposed to be done with, I hope.”
200,000 Acres of Crop Damage
The maximum fine then was just $1,000. But a farmer could save tens of thousands of dollars by using the cheap Dicamba. In 2016, farmers in the region saw damage on nearly 200,000 acres of crops – millions of dollars’ worth. And Mike Wallace continued to speak out.
Mr. Wallace’s complaint to the Plant Board that summer led investigators to another neighboring farm. That farmer contested the accusation and refused to give over his pesticide records. Tensions were still high after harvest, when farmers find out how much the damage is worth. It was then that for reasons Mike’s family members say they don’t know, Mike got a phone number for an employee of that second farm. The two men met to talk on a quiet county road, and Mike wound up dead.
Arkansas Farmer killed in Monsanto Feud
A man in Mississippi County was arrested for Mike’s murder. Mike’s wife Karen said that more than a thousand people showed up for his funeral at their church.
Monsanto Lawsuit over Dicamba
Arkansas is now raising its fines for illegal spraying, and fighting to ban it altogether during certain growing periods. Monsanto is, of course, fighting any ban. Missouri’s biggest peach farmer is suing Monsanto for selling Dicamba-tolerant seeds without the new spray to go with it. Monsanto claims the suit is baseless, that it’s not Monsanto’s fault if someone sprayed a chemical they weren’t supposed to.
Monsanto did warn people not to use the spray. (But how else were they going to use the seeds they were sold?) Meanwhile, a new, approved Dicamba has hit the market. The new Dicamba is not supposed to “drift so much,” according to NPR, but how much is too much? Crop damage is already being reported, whether from legal or illegal use of Dicamba. Weed scientists’ concerns are that once everyone starts using Dicamba like they used Roundup, the pigweed will grow immune again. Monsanto’s answer will again be to spray yet greater amounts of poison on the land and crops, into the air, onto the people. Monsanto lawsuits have already been filed by the hundreds for people exposed to cancerous Roundup who were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Arkansas and other states are moving to ban Dicamba for certain growing periods. Arkansas held a hearing this summer on the poison subject. The most impassioned plea for banning Dicamba came from an Arkansas’ beekeeper, who said he has lost at least half his hives from Dicamba poisoning the land. It’s now a well-known fact that pesticides are playing a major role in massive bee die offs. Einstein said humanity wouldn’t last four years if our pollinator bees died off. If true, we are now about halfway down the road to extinction.