How a weedkiller drives farmers out of business

Down here in the Delta, we know that Spring has arrived when the spray planes come out. That’s proof its warm enough to get ready for the growing season. For the last couple of years, however, the spray planes have been spreading something which is killing agriculture.

The only growing sector of American agriculture is being destroyed by a weedkiller which makes big profits for European chemical makers. The chemical is called dicamba. When you spray it on a field, it floats to neighboring fields. When conditions are right, it can even lift up after being sprayed and move to other fields.

Small farms selling organic food direct to consumers are the most vibrant part of American agriculture. They are growing because consumers want fresh local food not contaminated with pesticides. Many farmers have created thriving businesses providing such products with roadside stands, farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA). With just a few acres and a lot of hard work, new businesses are being created to meet the growing demand for fresh, healthy food.

Down here in the Delta, those farmers are being run out. Drifting dicamba from big farmers spraying non-food crops like soybeans and cotton destroys the small farmers next door.

Small farmers growing healthy food have been hit by pesticide drift before. Glyphosate and Facet both drift under the right conditions. But dicamba is a whole new ball game.

Dicamba’s effects aren’t limited just to small organic farmers. Dicamba is sold as a package with dicamba resistant seeds. Farmers buying both can spray over the top of their soybeans or cotton and kill weeds while their crops survives. The volatility of dicamba means it drifts to neighboring soybean and cotton fields. If they are not dicamba resistant, they are dead.

So even row crop farmers who don’t want to buy the expensive dicamba resistant seeds are forced to. The chemical companies now have a product which big farmers are forced to buy even if they don’t want to. The high cost is contributing to driving some of these farmers out of business, too.

The most ridiculous fact is that dicamba will become useless in a few years. Weeds are remarkably adaptable species. They develop resistance to herbicides. The only reason dicamba has a market is because pigweed became resistant to glyphosate. And glyphosate only had a market because weeds became resistant to other weedkillers.

Many row crop farmers are locked into this pesticide treadmill and paying the high prices chemical companies demand. Dicamba’s drift to neighboring fields is forcing all farmers to get on the pesticide treadmill if just one neighbor does.

The only bright part of this picture is how city people have risen up against dicamba. Dicamba drifts so far that it even kills plants in the city. At a hearing about dicamba in Little Rock yesterday, more than half the attendees were city residents whose ornamental plants and personal gardens had been destroyed by dicamba.

If enough of us get fed up, maybe things will change. Until then just one farmer using dicamba can cause every farmer in a region to use the chemical or go out of business.

One organization uniting farmers and city folk to fight dicamba is Freedom to Farm Foundation. Contact them through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/freedomtofarm/

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The auctioneers are busy this winter

When you’re young, farm auctions are fun. When you get older you realize a farm auction means another farmer has gone under. When your young, smart, hard-working neighbor has an auction it’s tragic. Last year was tough for farmers and many are going out of business and selling all their equipment this winter.

Farm size is increasing and number of farms decreasing across the US.

When I went out to get the paper yesterday morning, a line of pickups already stretched a quarter-mile to the west and trucks lined one side of our narrow road for a half mile to the east. They kept coming until both sides of the road had almost a mile of parked trucks on both sides.

Our young neighbor had taken a loan, rented some land and started farming on his own 15 years ago. He’d been working on other people’s farms all his life and finally got his chance when an older farmer decided to start a liquor store and rent out his land.

Now he will go back to work as a hired hand on one of the growing megafarms in our county. Federal farm policy makes it easy for the big boys to get bigger. To do so, they have to put other farmers out of business.

Increasingly the best land in our country is owned by non-farmers. People who don’t really know how to manage the land and are often mostly interested in the rent payment.

There is nothing resilient about a system which runs smaller farmers out and helps non-farmers get control of their land. Some of us are fighting to create a more resilient agriculture in the US. Join us at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.