Missouri’s largest peach producer has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto Co., alleging that the biotech company bears responsibility for illegal herbicide use suspected of causing widespread crop damage in southeast Missouri and neighboring states.

The suit filed Nov. 23 on behalf of Bill Bader, who operates Bader Farms near Campbell, Mo., seeks compensation for extensive damage to the farm’s peach trees suffered over the last two years — an interval which coincides with Monsanto’s release of crop varieties resistant to the herbicide dicamba.

Despite the Creve Coeur-based company’s rollout of dicamba-resistant Xtend crops in 2015, the corresponding herbicide was not approved for use until last month. Its absence meant that some farmers are suspected of using highly volatile, unauthorized forms of dicamba, prone to vaporizing and drifting to surrounding areas where nonresistant crops can be harmed.

The case was filed in Circuit Court of Dunklin County, an area of southeast Missouri’s Bootheel region where alleged dicamba damage has been especially pronounced. Many soybean farmers in the area have reported diminished yields due to suspected drift, and Bader thinks the same has happened to peaches and other crops around his farm.

In 2015, about 7,000 trees in Bader’s orchards were damaged, leading to a loss of $1.5 million, according to the lawsuit. This year an estimated 30,000 trees are considered a permanent loss, amounting to a financial blow that has yet to fully come into focus.

“Those numbers are still being estimated,” said Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber, a Kansas City law firm. “The losses will certainly be in the millions.”

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With insurers unwilling to cover damage from any illegal herbicide use, the future of Bader Farms looks grim. Peach trees take five years to mature and become profitable, meaning that the impact to Bader “is more long-term and farther-reaching,” according to Randles. The lawsuit states that Bader expects his financial losses to double next year, and may be out of the peach business entirely by 2019.

The suit alleges that illegal spraying was a predictable consequence of the Xtend seed being released without its intended complement of low-volatility dicamba. “The issue here is one of ‘foreseeability,’” said Randles. “It was entirely foreseeable that if Monsanto released the Xtend products onto the market that farmers would seek a way to protect those Xtend seeds from damage and they would do that by spraying dicamba.”

Monsanto, in a statement Tuesday, said the lawsuit “attempts to shift responsibility away from individuals who knowingly and intentionally broke state and federal law and harmed their neighbors in the process. Responsibility for these actions belongs to those individuals alone.”

The company added that, both before and during the 2016 growing season, it “took many steps to remind growers, dealers and applicators that dicamba was not approved for in-crop use at the time, and we do not condone the illegal use of any pesticide.”

A Monsanto spokesperson confirmed that the suit is the first to be filed against the company regarding the recent rash of alleged dicamba damage.

Originally Posted: stltoday.com