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🔥Jury deliberating in Missouri peach grower’s lawsuit against Bayer, BASF🔥

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Jury deliberating in Missouri peach grower’s lawsuit against Bayer, BASF

Leaves of Bader Farms’ peach trees bear holes and discoloration that owner Bill Bader believes is the result of drift from illegal applications of the herbicide, dicamba, on area farms. Other trees throughout the orchard have branches that are almost entirely denuded. photo by Bryce Gray, bgray@post-dispatch.com

Bryce Gray

CAPE GIRARDEAU — Lawyers made closing arguments Friday morning in a jury trial that will determine whether uncontrolled drift from the weedkiller dicamba has fueled the demise of Missouri’s largest peach farm.The verdict is expected to hold far-reaching implications for a wave of similar litigation that also blames the controversial herbicide for millions of acres of crop damage seen across U.S. farms in recent years, as dicamba has soared to newfound prominence in commercial agriculture.Bayer and BASF, two agribusiness companies whose products have helped push the chemical’s use to new heights, are defendants in the case, and defended the rollout of new dicamba technologies.Defense attorneys say the struggles of the plaintiff’s peach orchards stem from root fungus and adverse weather events, like hail and ice storms, rather than drift from the herbicide. They point to earlier tree losses and challenges the farm faced prior to the 2015 emergence of the new dicamba technology under fire.But lawyers for peach grower Bill Bader have argued that rampant dicamba damage was a foreseeable consequence of the introduction of new crop varieties genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba sprayed over the top of them for weed control.In fact, they argue that the volatile chemical’s tendency to drift and move off-target was a selling point recognized by the companies: Farmers using dicamba spray and seeds that tolerate the chemical were immune from damage, while those with other crops nearby risked damage when it didn’t stay in the intended fields.”It was part of the plan the whole time,” said Billy Randles, the lawyer making closing arguments on behalf of Bader. He pointed to internal company documents that anticipated damage from off-target dicamba drift prior to the new technology’s release, including “defensive planting” sales to farmers seeking to protect themselves.”They mapped out the number of people they were going to hurt, and put it out, anyway,” said Randles.”It was not compatible with Midwestern agriculture,” he said. “You buy it, or else.”Bader’s peach farm, Randles argued, is particularly vulnerable, given Southeast Missouri’s status as a national epicenter of dicamba damage complaints in recent years, and the heavy adoption of dicamba-tolerant crops in the area.”Bader Farms is an island in a sea of dicamba,” he said.Dicamba-tolerant seed varieties were introduced by the Creve Coeur-based biotechnology company Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018.Bayer’s defense focused largely on what it framed as the “core issue” of establishing proof that dicamba was the specific cause of problems on the orchard.”The story of what has been happening at Bader Farms has not been consistent,” said Jan Paul Miller, the attorney providing Bayer’s closing argument.He outlined past issues the farm’s trees have faced, ranging from hail to non-dicamba harm from a crop duster in recent years — problems he says can account for lost productivity, rather than dicamba.”If you add those things together, you’re back up to the yield they should have been having,” he said.Lawyers for BASF, which produces a popular form of new dicamba spray called Engenia, said their wasn’t evidence that its products hurt Bader’s operation.”The plaintiffs have not offered any evidence at all that they think it was specifically Engenia herbicide that reached their farm,” said attorney John Mandler, adding that no witnesses could “confirm what source or product it was that made it to Bader Farms.”He also fought accusations that the company coordinated with Monsanto, which was characterized as a fierce competitor, rather than a conspirator.”They each controlled their own products,” said Mandler. “We didn’t know where the seed was even planted.”Arguments ended a few minutes after noon, leaving the seven-person jury to begin deliberations.Updated at 3:18 p.m.

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Leaves of Bader Farms’ peach trees bear holes and discoloration that owner Bill Bader believes is the result of drift from illegal applications of the herbicide, dicamba, on area farms. Other trees throughout the orchard have branches that are almost entirely denuded. photo by Bryce Gray, bgray@post-dispatch.com

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