Bayer Faces New Weedkiller Hurdle as Brazilians Plan U.S. Visit

(Bloomberg) -- Bayer AG has a tough audience scrutinizing its latest crop technology.

Brazil’s most influential soybean growers group, along with authorities from the South American exporting giant, plan to travel to the U.S. to assess whether the country should allow the use of some of Bayer’s weedkillers and resistant seeds.

The Brazilian delegation wants to get first-hand insight into America’s experience with the use of dicamba, according to Antonio Galvan, the head of Aprosoja, which is organizing the trip. They’re going because of concern about the consequences of potential approvals after scores of American growers sued the firm over the pesticide.

“We want to gather more reports and information about the use of dicamba in the U.S. to know what may really happen to Brazil’s agriculture,” Galvan said in a telephone interview. “Our recommendation to the Agriculture Ministry is to be very cautious on this matter.”

Bayer has been battling lawsuits across the U.S. Midwest after farmers alleged its dicamba-based herbicide, known as XtendiMax, vaporized and drifted onto nearby fields, damaging crops that weren’t resistant. The company says the problems were due to farmers applying the chemical incorrectly, and that current formulations won’t drift if labels are followed.

Bayer Faces New Weedkiller Hurdle as Brazilians Plan U.S. Visit

In Brazil, two dicamba-based herbicides are approved for soybean crops -- Atectra, from BASF SE, and Dicamba, from Monsanto, a company that Bayer bought last year. Another 27 products are under evaluation, according to Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry.

Bayer will start trials on its new dicamba technology in 2019-20 in the South American nation, with an expected commercial launch for 2021, pending approvals, the company said in an emailed response to questions. The seed’s technology has been approved by a special commission while the Agriculture Ministry needs to approve the varieties that are going to market, Bayer says. It’s also waiting for approval of a new dicamba formulation in the country.

The U.S. trip, probably to the Midwest, should take place mid-year and include officials from Aprosoja and the Agriculture Ministry, Galvan said, adding that details of the agenda still need to be set. The ministry declined to comment on the trip.

“We have neither demand for this kind of product nor urgency on approval,” he said. “The herbicides currently available are enough for weed control.”

Read More: Monsanto Beats Farmers in Suit Over Pesticide-Resistant Seeds

Bayer says its XtendiMax and VaporGrip Technology are a critical tool for helping growers manage tough-to-control weeds.

“We’ve continued to enhance our training and education efforts to help U.S. growers use this technology successfully, and U.S. customers continue to report that they have achieved on-target applications and outstanding weed control with XtendiMax,” the company said.

Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry met growers, researchers and multinationals to discuss the approval of dicamba-resistant crops last month. The government also heard Bayer executive Otavio Cancado earlier this month, according to information on the ministry’s website.

Legal Protections

Farmers in the South American nation are also seeking protection from possible lawsuits involving the use of dicamba.

“If the product is approved, the government will need to create specific legislation to make clear who will be responsible for production losses caused by dicamba,” Galvan said. “We need clarity that the company will be responsible for losses in neighboring properties, and not the farmers who will use the product.”

In 2018, U.S. farmers sprayed dicamba on about 50 million acres of soybean and cotton crops. Of that, about 1 million acres of soybeans were damaged by the herbicide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency renewed registration for the products for the 2019 and 2020 U.S. growing seasons, though with stricter requirements.

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