A federal jury on Feb. 14 found in favor of Bader Farms, a Campbell, Missouri-based peach grower that blamed agrochemical giants Bayer and BASF for encouraging the use of the weedkiller dicamba and causing irreparable damage to its business.
According to a story by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, jurors awarded Bader Farms $15 million of the $20.9 million it sought. They also found Bayer – the German company that acquired Creve Coeur-based Monsanto in 2018 – must pay punitive damages. That amount will be decided Saturday. It was unclear Friday whether BASF also is liable for punitive damages.
The verdict, which likely will be appealed, is expected to hold far-reaching implications for a wave of similar litigation that also blames dicamba for millions of acres of crop damage seen across U.S. farms in recent years, as the weedkiller has soared to prominence in commercial agriculture.
The jury ruled in Bader Farms’ favor on every count – determining that Bayer and BASF committed negligence and acted together in a conspiracy to promote dicamba product systems.
Also, according to the Post-Dispatch report:
Lawyers for the companies claimed during the trial that Bader Farms’ losses stemmed from root fungus and adverse weather events, such as hail and ice storms, rather than drift from the herbicide. They pointed to tree losses and challenges the farm faced before the 2015 emergence of the new dicamba technology under fire.
But Bader Farms’ lawyers argued that rampant dicamba damage was a foreseeable consequence of the introduction of new crop varieties genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.
In fact, they argued 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 the weedkiller 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 Farms. He pointed to internal company documents that anticipated damage from off-target dicamba drift before the new technology’s release, and “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,” Randles said.
“It was not compatible with Midwestern agriculture,” he said. “You buy it, or else.”