Herbicide drift is a common, persistent problem for farmers. Steve Smith, director of agriculture for Red Gold Tomato (the largest privately-held canned tomato processor in the United States), told the subcommittee the problem will only be exacerbated if more herbicide-tolerant crops are grown. He was especially worried about dicamba-tolerant soybeans in the Midwest.

“Our concerns about the upcoming increased use of dicamba aren’t just about tomatoes but all fruit and vegetable crops and rural homeowners living near local farms,” said Smith. “The use of dicamba isn’t new — it’s effective, is a great weed-killer and economical to apply.

“So, many may wonder why a product that’s effective, proven and economical isn’t the number one herbicide in use today. It’s very simple: dicamba has also proven itself to move off-target and injure adjoining crops. So, it isn’t currently widely in use.”

New agricultural technologies should be pursued but “must be examined for unintended consequences,” said Smith, who reminded that conventional wisdom once said “it was a good idea to use lead in paint.

“The theory of dicamba-tolerant soybeans may appear sound on the surface. Its ability to kill weeds is proven. But the potential damage to sectors of agriculture and rural homeowners demands we take a closer look at this particular advance.”

Widespread use of dicamba “is incompatible” with Midwestern agriculture as the product “is highly vulnerable to offsite movement in three forms: direct drift, volatilization and spray-tank contamination.”

This is not an idle concern. Over the last four years, Smith said, Red Gold has suffered over $1 million in drift claims.

Dicamba’s propensity towards volatilization makes it a “danger” to Midwestern agriculture. “Volatilization occurs when the active ingredient evaporates and can then be moved with the surrounding air mass for up to four days after applications,” said Smith. “Its killing capabilities can spread up to two miles, or more.

“Even the best, most conscientious farmers can’t control or predict what will happen four days after application. Ironically, the very conditions that minimize direct drift actually maximize volatilization: little or no wind, high temperatures and high humidity. (Those are) normal conditions for when this product is applied in June and July.”

Smith put little stock in company claims that new formulations of dicamba lessen the threats. “We believe those claims to be overly optimistic as even the new formulations are still proving to move off-target.”

If such formulation claims are sound and dicamba-tolerant soybeans are adopted, Smith said, those “who will profit from the sale of this seed technology — and the makers of dicamba — should willingly step up and establish an indemnity fund to cover crop losses and homeowner claims for damages.”