New herbicide-resistant crops worry specialty crop growers

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2012 -An Indiana tomato processor is organizing a coalition of specialty crop growers concerned about pending approval of soybeans, cotton and corn genetically engineered to tolerate 2,4-D and dicamba herbicides. Steve Smith, of the Red Gold Company in Elwood, Ind., who chairs the Save Our Crops Coalition, says that commercial use of the tolerant crops would mean a boom in use of herbicides that can damage specialty crops located miles away from the application site.

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USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is taking public comment through Feb. 27 on a petition by Dow AgroSciences to deregulate a corn trait that can survive 2,4-D. Monsanto has several petitions pending for approval of dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton.

“Unless we act immediately, a dramatic increase in damage to specialty crops will occur due to drift and volatization of growth regulator herbicides in areas that produce soybeans or cotton,” Smith said in an email solicitation for members to contribute to his coalition. “Together, we can prevent this damage by responsibly participating in the regulatory review process,” he wrote.

Smith told Agri-Pulse that drift is a perennial threat from many herbicides but that 2,4-D and dicamba pose unique challenges because they vaporize after application into volatile chemicals that “can move one to two miles for as long as one to five days after application.” He contends that the two chemicals are “relatively little used today” other than on wheat at times of the year in areas where the potential danger to specialty crops is minimized.

The coalition's position in the controversy is unique, he said. “We are not anti-biotechnology at all. The problem is two chemicals that are 40 to 50 years old and are well known to move off target.”

His email appealed for members to contribute at least $5,000 to the coalition to oppose “practices likely to cause direct and substantial herbicide damage to neighboring fields, truck farms and gardens. “We do not view the need to fund this group for a long time period,” it adds, but rather a quick and hard-hitting approach to change the course of the pending regulatory reviews is needed now.” He said the coalition of “growers, processors, home gardeners, pollinator advocates and scientists” retained Washington lawyer John Bode, who was assistant secretary of agriculture for food and consumer services during the Reagan and first Bush administrations.


Original story printed in January 25, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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