Jury awards Missouri farmer $15 million for dicamba damage
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — A southeast Missouri peach grower was awarded $15 million in actual damages Friday in his lawsuit alleging the weedkiller dicamba severely damaged his orchards.
Bill Bader, of Campbell, sued Bayer and BASF, alleging they were responsible for damage at Bader Farms, one of the largest peach farms in Missouri, which his attorneys argued would likely not survive repeated exposure to dicamba.
The jury in Cape Girardeau is scheduled to return Saturday to assess punitive damages against Bayer and BASF, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Bader’s lawsuit is one of several filed against Bayer and BASF that blame the pesticide for damaging millions of acres of crops across the country.
Farmers have been using dicamba for more than 50 years but complaints increased after Monsanto — which was bought by Bader in 2018 — released dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans, leading to increased use of dicamba-based herbicides and more complaints about the chemical drifting onto farms that did not have resistant crops.
Attorneys for the two agribusiness companies argued Friday that Bader’s peach orchards were damaged by root fungus and adverse weather, such as hail and ice storms.
But Bader’s lawyers argued that the damage from dicamba was a foreseeable result of the companies’ introducing the new crop varieties that tolerated the dicamba, which is used for weed control.
They said Friday in closing arguments that the companies sold new resistant crop varieties by promoting that it would drift onto nearby farms, where crops could not tolerate the herbicide.
“It was part of the plan the whole time,” said Billy Randles, attorney for Bader. He noted internal company documents that anticipated damage from dicamba drift before 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.
Bayer’s defense focused on the “core issue” of proving that dicamba was the specific cause of problems at the orchard.
“The story of what has been happening at Bader Farms has not been consistent,” said Jan Paul Miller, during Bayer’s closing argument.
Lawyers for BASF, which produces a popular form of new dicamba spray called Engenia, said there 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.”
They also questioned whether Bader’s business is actually losing money, citing increased profits the farm has averaged in years since alleged dicamba damage began.