Being Better For Bees


Richard Coy inspects one of his hives near Burdette, Ark. Honey production at this location fell by almost half this year — which he attributes to the drifting of weedkiller dicamba to nearby flowering plants. Dan Charles/NPR

By coincidence two days in a row we have encountered important stories related to bees–yesterday’s more inspirational and this one more troubling:

There is one small field on Michael Sullivan’s farm, near the town of Burdette, Ark., that he wishes he could hide from public view.

The field is a disaster. There are soybeans in there, but you could easily overlook them. The field has been overrun by monsters: ferocious-looking plants called pigweeds, as tall as people and bursting with seeds that will come back to haunt any crops that Sullivan tries to grow here for years to come.

“I’m embarrassed to say that we farm that field,” Sullivan says. “We sprayed it numerous times, and it didn’t kill it.”

Pigweeds, which have become resistant to some well-known herbicides, infest a soybean field in northwestern Arkansas. Dan Charles/NPR

These weeds have become resistant to Sullivan’s favorite herbicides, including glyphosate, which goes by the trade name Roundup.

Yet the rest of Sullivan’s farm is beautiful. As farmers like to say, the fields are “clean.” There is not a weed to be seen.

In those fields, he planted soybeans that enjoy a novel superpower. They’ve been genetically modified by Monsanto, the biotech giant, so that they tolerate a different weed-killing chemical, called dicamba.

As a result, starting this year, Sullivan got to spray dicamba on those soybeans. And he loves the results.

“Now we finally got a chemical [where] we can farm clean and be proud of our crop. And don’t have these vicious pigweeds coming up,” he says.

But there is a dark side of this weed-killing revolution, and David Wildy is living it.

“It’s a real disaster,” Wildy says. His voice sounds tired.

Wildy is well-known in Arkansas’s farming community. He was named Southeast Farmer of the Year in 2016. This year, he planted the same soybeans that he has in previous years, not the new dicamba-tolerant ones. He didn’t think he needed them…

Read the whole story here.

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