German chemical giants Bayer and BASF are facing new lawsuits over dicamba weedkiller from Texan grape growers and an Arkansas honey producer, DTN reported on 4 June.

Arkansas-based honey producer Coy’s Honey Farm had filed a lawsuit against Bayer in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on 25 May, claiming dicamba drift had destroyed vegetation the farm’s bees relied upon, reducing the farm’s honey production and bee populations starting in 2018, according to the report.

Following this, a group of wine grape growers in the High Plains of Texas filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County District Court in Texas on 4 June against both Bayer and BASF, alleging 57 vineyards had suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to their grapes from dicamba volatilisation and drift starting in 2016, DTN wrote.

The new lawsuits came as both companies were fighting to overturn a US$265M jury verdict (later reduced to US$75M) against them, for dicamba injury to a peach orchard in Missouri, the report said. Both companies had appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, saying the verdict should be reversed.

Meanwhile, Bayer was working through a settlement for injury to non-dicamba tolerant soyabean fields, according to DTN. The company had agreed to make US$400M available to resolve multi-district litigation in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri over dicamba injury claims to soyabean fields from 2015 to 2020, the report said. The claims period for that settlement had closed on 28 May.

In one of the latest lawsuits, Coy’s Honey Farm vice president Richard Coy argued that the use of Bayer’s dicamba weedkiller – as well as BASF’s Engenia herbicide and Corteva’s FeXapan herbicide – had “greatly diminished” the pollen and nectar sources on the landscape “as a result of the drift, volatilisation and other spread of the dicamba herbicides from the fields and crops on which they were applied”, DTN reported.

In an e-mailed statement to DTN in response to the lawsuit, Bayer had reaffirmed the company’s confidence in its XtendiMax product.

The Texas lawsuit represented four grape processors, as well as 57 vineyards, according to the report. The lawsuit claimed that dicamba damage had never been an issue to the state’s grapevines until Monsanto (now owned by Bayer after its purchase of the US agrochemicals company for US$63bn in 2018) had released its dicamba-tolerant cropping system in 2016 and the accompanying herbicides had joined the market in 2017.

Dicamba applications on surrounding cotton fields in the High Plains had since caused major damage to the entire grape-producing industry, the lawsuit alleged, according to the DTN report.

In response to the Texas lawsuit, Bayer had sent DTN a statement saying although it had “great sympathy for any grower who suffers a crop loss, there are many possible reasons why crop losses might occur including extreme winter weather conditions that can have particularly devastating effects on perennial crops like vineyards.”

“We stand strongly behind the safety and utility of our XtendiMax herbicide and will continue to defend this technology. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has comprehensively evaluated XtendiMax and determined it does not pose any unreasonable risks of off-target movement when used according to label directions,” the statement added.

BASF’s e-mailed statement to DTN had also suggested that weather and other factors had been more to blame for the Texas grape growers’ losses.

“BASF has had the opportunity to review these claims and the alleged damage and strongly disagrees with the allegations in the lawsuit. It is well documented that a 2019 freeze contributed significantly to the grower's current complaints and that other known sources of herbicides, such as applications to public rights of way, have been ignored by the growers,” the statement added.

In its statement, BASF defended its product saying it had conducted “extensive testing” before receiving EPA approval to market its Engenia herbicide in 2017.

“In addition, because of BASF's commitment to stewardship, we continue to provide training to applicators and emphasise the importance of following the label requirements for Engenia herbicide to achieve on-target applications.”