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Jury Awards Missouri Peach Farmer $15 Million In Damages In Dicamba Suit

Bill and Denise Bader, owners of Missouri's largest peach farm, allege in their lawsuit that Monsanto and BASF are to blame for extensive dicamba damage.
File photo | Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Bill and Denise Bader, owners of Missouri's largest peach farm, allege in their lawsuit that Monsanto and BASF are to blame for extensive dicamba damage.

Updated at 7 p.m., Feb. 14 with reaction to verdict

A jury found in favor of Bader Farms on all counts Friday, awarding $15 million in damages.

Monsanto and BASF were found liable for negligent design of the products and negligent failure to warn regarding the products. 

The jury also found that the two companies created a joint venture to manufacture and sell dicamba-resistant seed and low-volatility herbicides, and that they conspired to create an “ecological disaster” to increase profits.

The jury also wants the companies to pay punitive damages. A hearing to determine the amount is set for 9 a.m. Saturday.Immediately after the verdict, members of the plaintiff’s team embraced. Denise Bader wiped away tears as she held on to her husband Bill’s arm.

They both thanked several members of the gallery for attending the hearing, including Steve and Dee Landers. 

“We’re up next,” Dee Landers said outside the courtroom. The couple also operates a farm in Missouri’s bootheel and say they’ve been affected by dicamba drift.

They make up some of the hundreds of farms who have also filed lawsuits against Monsanto and BASF for dicamba damage to their crops. 

Landers said the verdict was exactly what she hoped for.

“That they be exposed for what they did to our environment and to all of us farmers that went through this and hurt us all financially,” she said.

A gag order is still in effect until after the hearing on Saturday, meaning neither plaintiffs nor defendants can speak with reporters.

Original story:

CAPE GIRARDEAU — After three weeks of testimony from weed scientists, company executives and farmers, lawyers on Friday morning wrapped up their closing arguments in the first dicamba-related lawsuit to go to a federal jury trial.

The lawsuit, filed by Dunklin County-based Bader Farms, alleges agrochemical companies Monsanto and BASF are to blame for extensive damage to Missouri’s largest peach farm because their dicamba-based herbicides drifted onto its orchards from neighboring fields. 

Monsanto, bought by Bayer in 2018, and BASF deny those and other allegations.

Billy Randles, lead lawyer for Bader Farms, told the jury Friday that the farm is on the brink of financial collapse. 

He urged the jury to award the full $20.9 million in damages sought by the lawsuit. The suit also calls for punitive damages. Randles argued that the companies created a joint venture, and that through that they “conspired to create an ecological disaster” to increase profits on dicamba-tolerant seeds. 

Monsanto and BASF deny those allegations, including that they created a joint venture to mutually profit from the crop system. While BASF is seeking to distance itself from Monsanto, both companies argue the damage on Bader Farms has nothing to do with dicamba.

The Xtend seeds were released starting in 2015 without a corresponding herbicide, which encouraged farmers to use older dicamba-based herbicides before the new product was released, Randles argued.

Monsanto’s XtendiMax and BASF’s Engenia, both dicamba-based weed killers, were released in 2017. The products were intended to help farmers kill weeds that have become increasingly resistant to glyphosate, a weed killer sold commercially as Roundup. 

There’s a long history of dicamba-based weed killers in the Midwest, though their use didn’t become widespread — because of drift issues — until the release of Monsanto’s dicamba-resistant seeds.

Among other things, the jury is being asked whether dicamba-based herbicides sold by Monsanto and BASF, more likely than not, contributed to damage at Bader Farms. 

The lawsuit at the center of the trial alleged that ag giants Monsanto and BASF Corp. are to blame for extensive dicamba damage on Missouri's largest peach farm.
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
The lawsuit at the center of the trial alleged that ag giants Monsanto and BASF Corp. are to blame for extensive dicamba damage on Missouri's largest peach farm.

What the plaintiffs argued

Over the first two weeks of trial, the plaintiff’s lawyers introduced 180 Monsanto and BASF documents that have not before been made public. 

In his closing arguments, Randles used those documents in an effort to convince the jury that the companies knew the damage the crop system would have on farmers, and saw it as a market opportunity. 

“This is the first product in American history that literally destroys its competition,” he said. “You buy it, or else.”

Some of the documents presented by Randles showed that BASF’s profit from Clarity — an older dicamba-based herbicide — rose in 2016. That product was not permitted for use on dicamba-tolerant seeds, which the labels explained.

Other internal company documents show executives anticipated thousands of complaints about dicamba damage, while other documents pointed to a policy not to reach settlements on such complaints. 

How the defense countered

During his closing arguments, Monsanto’s lead attorney Jan Miller started by turning the jury’s attention away from dicamba. 

“The story about what has been happening at Bader Farms has not been consistent,” he said. 

He pointed to insurance claims filed by farm owner Bill Bader, for frost, hail and freeze damage. He also leaned heavily on witness testimony that Bader Farms’ trees suffered from armillaria root rot. 

After a brief recess, lead BASF attorney John Mandler sought to distance his client from Monsanto by describing the company as “fierce competitors.” He denied any joint venture.

Mandler also highlighted the fact that BASF only sold the herbicide Engenia, beginning in 2017, and did not sell a dicamba-tolerant seed. The company did, however, receive royalties on dicamba-resistant seeds sold by Monsanto. 

Mander also emphasized BASF’s efforts to warn farmers of potential harm to specialty crops, including fruit trees, if the herbicides were not used correctly. 

The seven members of the jury began deliberating the facts of the case and potential verdicts around noon on Friday. They could potentially reach a verdict by the end of the day.

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

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Corinne Ruff joined St. Louis Public Radio as the economic development reporter in April, 2019. She grew up among the cornfields in Northern Illinois and later earned degrees in Journalism and French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has since reported at the international, national and local level on business, education and social justice issues.