Agricultural Scientist Responds To Oregon County’s Mandate To Apply Herbicides To Organic Farm

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Yesterday I fielded an article concerning a rather distressing mandate by an Oregon county weed control agency seeking to force the application of hazardous herbicides onto a 2,000 acre organic farm owned by Azure Farms. Sherman County Oregon maintains this scorched earth policy is necessary to abate, or more specifically “eradicate”, weeds listed by state statute as noxious.

Now, the scientific community is responding to this overreaching government action by acting in the interests of health and responsible environmental stewardship through advocacy in the hopes that officials in Sherman County will reconsider their mandate.

Dr. Charles Benbrook is a highly credentialed research professor and expert serving on several boards of directors for agribusiness and natural resources organizations. Having read news of Sherman County’s actions, he penned an authoritative response I believe will make informative reading for those concerned by present and future implications in the forced use of herbicides under the rubric of noxious weed eradication, and the damage to organic farming generally arising from such mandates.

Dr. Charles Benbrook

Charles Benbrook has a PhD in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. He currently is a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University in the UK. See his CV here.

He was a Research Professor at Washington State University from 2012-2015, and served as the Chief Scientist of The Organic Center from 2006-2012. He was the Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture in the National Academy of Sciences from 1984-1990. He was the staff director of the Subcommittee on Department [USDA] Operations, Research, and Foreign Agriculture of the House Committee on Agriculture (1981-1983). He worked as an agricultural and natural resources policy expert in the Council for Environmental Quality in the last 1.5 years of the Carter Administration. He began Benbrook Consulting Services (BCS) in 1990, and continues to carry out projects with a wide range of clients via BCS

He coauthors an informative website Hygeia-Analytics.com.

I reached out to Dr. Benbrook and received permission to reprint his letter in the hope that with more attention, including that from the scientific community, we can arrive at a reasonable solution to the county’s concerns. Here is Dr. Benbrook’s letter: Original webpage may be read HERE.

Tom McCoy
Joe Dabulskis

Sherman County Commissioners

Lauren Hernandez
Administrative Assistant
Sherman County, Oregon

Rod Asher
Sherman Country Weed District Supervisor
Moro, Oregon

Alexis Taylor
Director
Oregon Department of Agriculture

Dear Ms. Hernandez el al:

I live in Wallowa County. I learned today of the recent, dramatic change in the Sherman County noxious weed control program and the plan to forcibly spray a 2,000-acre organic farm in the county.

Over a long career, I have studied herbicide use and efficacy, public and private weed control efforts, the linkages between herbicide use and the emergence and spread of resistant weeds, and the public health and environmental impacts of herbicide use and other weed management strategies.

I served for six years, along with fellow Oregonian Barry Bushue, past-president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, on the USDA’s AC 21 Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee. Issues arising from herbicide use were a frequent topic of discussion during our Committee’s deliberations.

I have published multiple scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals on glyphosate, its human health risks, and the impact of genetically engineered crops on overall herbicide use and the spread of resistant weeds. In a separate email, I will forward you copies of my published research relevant to the use of herbicides, and glyphosate in particular.

The notion that Sherman County can eradicate noxious weeds by blanket herbicide spraying is deeply misguided. I cannot imagine a single, reputable university weed scientist in the State supporting the idea that an herbicide-based noxious weed eradication program would work (i.e., eradicate the target weeds) in Oregon, or any other state. To hear another opinion from one of the State’s most widely known and respected weed scientists, I urge the County to consult with Dr. Carol Mallory-Smith, Oregon State University.

I also doubt any corporate official working for Monsanto, the manufacturer of glyphosate (Roundup), would agree or endorse the notion that any long-established weed in Sherman County, noxious or otherwise, could be eradicated via blanket spraying with Roundup, or for that matter any combination of herbicides.

Before proceeding with any county-mandated herbicide use justified by the goal of eradication, I urge the County to seek concurrence from the herbicide manufacturer that they believe use of their product will likely eradicate your named, target, noxious weeds.

Given that almost no one with experience in weed management believes that any long-established weed, noxious or otherwise, can be eradicated with herbicides, one wonders why the County has adopted such a draconian change in its noxious weed control program. I can think of two plausible motivations – a desire by companies and individuals involved in noxious weed control activities, via selling or applying herbicides, to increase business volume and profits; or, an effort to reduce or eliminate acreage in the Country that is certified organic.

Weeds are classified as noxious when they prone to spread, are difficult to control, and pose a public health or economic threat to citizens, public lands, and/or farming and ranching operations. Ironically, by far the fastest growing and mostly economically damaging noxious weeds in the U.S. are both noxious and spreading because they have developed resistance to commonly applied herbicides, and especially glyphosate.

There is near-universal agreement in the weed science community nationwide, and surely as well in the PNW, that over-reliance on glyphosate (Roundup) over the last two decades has created multiple, new noxious weeds posing serious economic, environmental, and public health threats.

In fact, over 120 million acres of cultivated cropland in the U.S. is now infested with one or more glyphosate-resistant weed (for details, see http://cehn-healthykids.org/herbicide-use/resistant-weeds/.

The majority of glyphosate-resistant weeds are in the Southeast and Midwest, where routine, year-after-year planting of Roundup Ready crops has led to heavy and continuous selection pressure on weed populations, pressure that over three-to-six years typically leads to the evolution of genetically resistant weed phenotypes, that can then take off, spreading across tens of millions of acres in just a few years.

Ask any farmer in Georgia, or Iowa, or Arkansas whether they would call “noxious” the glyphosate-resistant kochia, Palmer amaranth, Johnson grass, marestail, or any of a dozen other glyphosate-resistant weeds in their fields.

It is virtually certain that an herbicide-based attempt to eradicate noxious weeds in Sherman County would fail. It would also be extremely costly, and would pose hard-to-predict collateral damage on non-target plants from drift, and on human health and the environment. But even worse, it would also, almost certainly, accelerate the emergence and spread of a host of weeds resistant to the herbicides used in the program.

This would, in turn, leave the county, and the county’s farmers with not just their existing suite of noxious weeds to deal with, but a new generation of them resistant to glyphosate, or whatever other herbicides are widely used.

Sherman County’s proposal, while perhaps well meaning, will simply push the herbicide use-resistant weed treadmill into high gear. Just as farmers in other parts of the county have learned over the last 20 years, excessive reliance on glyphosate, or herbicides over-all, accomplishes only one thing reliably – it accelerates the emergence and spread of resistant weeds, requiring applications of more, and often more toxic herbicides, and so on before some one, or something breaks this vicious cycle.

I urge you to take into account two other consequences if the County pursues this deeply flawed strategy. Certified organic food products grown and processed in Oregon, and distributed by Oregon-based companies like Azure and the Organically Grown Company, are highly regarded throughout the U.S. for exceptional quality, consistency, and value.

Plus, export demand is growing rapidly across several Pacific Rim nations for high-value, certified organic foods and wine from Oregon. Triggering a high-profile fight over government-mandated herbicide spraying on certified organic fields in Sherman County will come as a shock to many people, who are under the impression that all Oregonians, farmers and consumers alike, are committed to a vibrant, growing, and profitable organic food industry.

Does Sherman County really want to erode this halo benefiting the marketing of not just organic products, but all food and beverages from Oregon?

Second, if Sherman County is serious about weed eradication, it will have to mandate widespread spraying countywide, and not just on organic farms, and not just for one year. The public reaction will be swift, strong, and build in ferocity. It will likely lead to civil actions of the sort that can trigger substantial, unforeseen costs and consequences. I am surely not the only citizen of the State that recalls the tragic events last year in Malheur County.

Plus, I guarantee you that the County, the herbicide applicators, and the manufacturers of the herbicides applied, under force of law on organic or other farms, will face a torrent of litigation seeking compensatory damages for loss of reputation, health risks, and the loss of premium markets and prices.

I have followed litigation of this sort for decades, and have served as an expert witness in several herbicide-related cases. While it is obviously premature to start contemplating the precise legal theories and statutes that will form the crux of future litigation, the County should develop a realistic estimate of the legal costs likely to arise in the wake of this strategy, if acted upon, so that the County Commissioners can alert the public upfront regarding how they will raise the funds needed to deal with the costs of near-inevitable litigation.

~+~

Many thanks to Professor Benbrook for his quick attention to this important matter. We owe him gratitude for his effort and I am thankful for his providing us with scientific and ethical evidence to support the prevention of over-reach by government officials that puts in jeopardy the health of individuals, the environment, and the liberty of farmers to grow healthy crops.

UPDATE: The Organic Farm and Sherman County have reached a tentative settlement.

By Darren Smith

Source: Charles Benbrook via Hygeia Analytics

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

74 thoughts on “Agricultural Scientist Responds To Oregon County’s Mandate To Apply Herbicides To Organic Farm

  1. Very good letter from the expert.
    The question arises as to what the real motive here is. I think it is to put the farm out of business.
    Kids in the area should strike back and take some Round Up over to the City Hall and other government buildings and spell out words in the front grass areas or side lots. Such as: Weed Killers Need To Be Killed.
    Eradicate Dumb Politicians In This Dumb Town.
    Round Up The Political Dorks and Hang Em.

    • A little strong wording, don’t you think? I do get think your idea has merit however. Maybe something with a little less “threatening” for these politicians and government workers would be: “Weed Out Politicians”. For what it’s worth, I don’t allow spaying weeds in my yard with Roundup or any pesticide. We pull them out by the root. Time consuming but don’t want the run off of pesticides into other planting areas or my neighbors yards. I wish more suggestions for better ways to deal with weed proliferation had been provided in his letter. Pulling out by the root is way too expensive but for very liberal states, it certainly would provide a whole new field of employment for illegal immigrants who are so desired for their diversity and ultimate votes for Democrats.

    • No. No, no, no. Do not screw around with the EPA. They will destroy you. Due process is a vague and distant notion when a federal administrative agency comes for your head.

      If you must run a criminal conspiracy to get your message out, use bombs or guns so you just get the terrorist treatment. Off-label herbicide use will get you in REAL trouble. (This is obviously hyperbole but, in all seriousness, administrative agencies with police power are scary bad to get on the wrong side of as a citizen.)

  2. What goes into the soil comes out through the things grown in the soil. A test of various breakfast cereals (never mind the noxious sugar content) they contain glycosphate (sp), the active poison in Roundup. Soil rich in the nutrients we need will produce food that is rich in those nutrients. Soil that is dead from being poisoned will produce food containing poison. Noxious weeds tend to grow in poor soil. The real solution to the problem is to enrich the soil so the noxious weeds are pushed out by friendly crops..
    Must be Trump administration – someone who knows nothing about the topic for which he is responsible.

    • A good example of plants drawing up dissolved chemicals in the soil is when you put a white chrysanthemum in a glass of water with blue food coloring. The flower will turn blue, and that color will not wash off. Plants can accumulate arsenic and lead from contaminated soil, which is why you cannot plant a vegetable garden near a house that was painted with lead based paint.

      As for blaming this on Trump, that seems a bit convoluted reasoning, does it not? This occurred at the county level in Oregon, a deep blue state. The President is not involved in county government decisions in any state, let alone a Democratic stronghold. And yet, as you said, someone in this Democratic stronghold state made decisions that were clearly uninformed and poorly thought out. Bad decisions are not confined to party.

      I would blame Monsanto as a possible suspect however. Perhaps they have been marketing their services to increase sales. We can’t know for sure however until and unless the county reveals their reasoning for this absurd decision.

      Let’s hope they see reason.

        • agreed.
          WESTERN Oregon (Willamette Valley, up to Portland Metro) is, indeed, deep blue.
          Eastern and Southern Oregon are red-red-RED! Sherman & Moro Counties are EASTERN OREGON.
          I’m a 3d-generation Oregonian and have farming family in Eastern OR. Believe me, I NEVER try to talk politics with those people, no matter how much I love them.

    • Must be the LIARS from the Obama Administration. You know: “If you like your doctor” gang who lied about EVERYTHING for eight years and want Government involved in EVERYTHING which is why they imported millions of illegal people into America to pad their future voters for Socialist Progressives.

      • Elise,

        One thing people on both sides of the aisle are completely bamboozled about is the idea that Obama is a socialist. Obama is a crony capitalist. His “health”care” plan was written by the Heritage foundation (not known as a socialist think tank! and polished by an executive from Wellpoint (also not a socialist organization)! This was a gift to the dying health insurance companies. It was not meant to bring health to the people of this nation.

        A progressive plan would be universal, single payer health CARE. Obama told Congress they were not allowed to consider this option and he had members from Physicians for single Payer arrested at the WH for the “crime” of trying to present their plan! Obama is a corporate flunky through and through, as are most upper echelon Democrats.

        One thing is correct, he most certainly is a liar. He did lie about his insurance company bail out plan. He lied about almost everything, but he is simply not either a socialist or a progressive. He holds not one position in common with those groups.

        As a nation, we need to see through political parties and their propaganda. Each party is full of crony capitalists. That means they use the govt. as a cash cow/legal aid for corporate crimes. It’s not about a free market. It’s about rigging the market. This isn’t progressive. It isn’t libertarian. It’s crap! Crony capitalist love illegal labor as it allows them to pay the lowest possible wages and keep people in slave like conditions.
        This also applies to even higher status jobs such as tech, where people are brought in “legally” (thanks to the corporate/public partnership called USGinc.) and can’t get better wages because they can only work for the company who brought them in. With one blow, Americans can’t get these jobs, and people of other nations are stuck in them for much lower wages than the marketplace (if it really were a free market) will bear.

        Trump is continuing these same policies as he serves the same masters as Obama did. He isn’t surrounded by GS by accident, anymore than Obama took his marching orders from Citibank. We have got to wake up to this rigged system. Crony Capitalism is the name of the game. It is not about freedom, justice, good business practice or a free market. It’s a scam and USGinc. has both legacy parties locked up in the game.

      • ” You know: “If you like your doctor” gang who lied about EVERYTHING ” And of course you have no problem with the lies that have spewed out of Trumps mouth I’m sure.

    • Wow! I was wondering how long it would take you to blame President Trump. For that, I am headed to Home Depot for a gallon on ROUNDUP to show my support for the county’s program. It is so apparent that weeds are not the true candidate for priority eradication. I have commented before that what is needed in Oregon is the adoption of SANCTUARY FARMS. Take all your illegals and have them hand pick those thistles.

      • Hatred of people from another nation isn’t really the point here. This is about taking a farm and crushing it. That’s not exactly free enterprise at work!

        Bettykath,

        I think Obama was your guy. On this blog you used to actively bully me and other people who didn’t worship him. If we questioned his policies, you didn’t give a reason why he made good policies, you just went into personal attack mode. So I am a bit surprised to see you disavow him now.

    • My last sentence was sarcasm. Just thought I’d be the first to make it the fault of a President. No apology for not flagging it as sarcasm because there is a touch of truth in that Trump has been naming people who want to destroy an agency to head it. I’m not saying anything about any other administration, just the current one.

      Comparing administrations of which one is worst just moves the bar of acceptability lower and lower, as in, my guy is better than your guy or your guy is so much worse than my guy, when both, your guy and my guy are nothing to brag about. But then, neither of those of current comparisons are “my” guy.

    • Noxious weeds tend to grow in poor soil.

      They do indeed, but weeds also grow even better in rich soil. What happens, all else being equal, is that crops tend to crowd out weeds in good soil whereas in poor soil the weeds tend to do the crowding out.

      The new super weeds brought about by over use of chemical pesticides such as RoundUp, can make it exceedingly difficult to grow anything else regardless of soil type until you invent even more noxious chemicals. While crops genetically modified to resist roundup will grow with or without round up, they can, like any other crop, be overwhelmed by weeds – particularly if those weeds have developed a resistance to roundup.. This is hardly the fault of organic farming (or Socialism for that matter, snort 🙂 ).

    • Great find Autumn! This is a long video, and an incredibly depressing one, but well worth watching. It’s a horror show that awaits everyone in all aspects of their life as transnational corporations get ever greater control over nation sates via the ISDS mechanisms in so called, “trade agreements” and through a scorched earth policy regarding protective regulatory processes. You know something’s rotten when they pass laws against your knowing what’s inside the food you eat.

      It would be easy for China or Russia or even the smallest little mouse that roared nation state, such as Switzerland, to bring the United States to it’s knees by simply leaving it to its own devices. The problem is that the US insists that everyone across the globe do exactly what it does so that its corporations can expand their profit base. It works beautifully in nations where the farmers have little education and the politicians are easily manipulated. The latter, corrupt politicians, works well in Europe, but not the former; the population is well educated so Monsanto has had a very hard time. In South America and Asia, however, both conditions hold true: uneducated and easy target pols.

      It’s an international corporate take over. Watching small farmers in South America, for instance, get swept away by the impossibility of raising crops next to farms raising GM crops, end up having to sell their farms and then whole families end up savaging dumpsters in the city is heart breaking.

      I’m not a fan of over regulation, but this is outrageous. The whole process of deregulation since Regan has been used by giant corporations for one thing and one thing only, to pervert all normal checks and balances in favor of raw profit. There is more regulation for the small guy than ever. Less than ever for companies like Mont Santo. And a bunch of slobbering idiots who are psychologically trained to salivate at the mere mention of deregulation. This results in policy that is government of the transnationals, by the transnationals, and for the transnationals.

  3. Reviewing Dr. Benbrook’s letter from a critical perspective, it would have been helpful if he had offered suggestions or alternatives for control of the weeds that wouldn’t involve sacrificing the economic viability of the neighboring farms. Weed control without chemicals is an extremely labor-intensive business. You’d need farm laborers descending on the county like a cloud of locusts to physically weed (and weed again and again) each farm. It just isn’t viable.

    I also take exception to Dr. Benbrook’s straw man. He notes repeatedly that it’s impossible to eradicate the weeds with glyphosate. It’s not clear that the county is attempting complete eradication. I’m sure they’d be thrilled if they could, but it’s fairly obviously unrealistic. The goal for weed control is precisely that – control. The County is probably at the point where doing nothing is not an option, and would likely welcome some constructive advice on how to deal with the weed problem, not just a “don’t do that,” rinse & repeat.

    • Reviewing Dr. Benbrook’s letter from a critical perspective, it might be even more helpful if we determined whether or not the neighboring farms were in any way shape or form endangered by any weeds, and if so, how significantly, or whether this is simply Monsanto strong arming the local government into getting rid of a serious potential threat to GM crops; proof positive that they are unnecessary and dangerous not only to human health, but to the very process of weed control in so far as as part of this whole industrial model, super-weeds that are becoming more and more resistant to all our chemicals are starting to pose a real threat.

  4. This is very far from new and just a sad repeating incident where Oregons left wing fascist governments act with no rhyme nor reason In the past they have slaughtered areas kept weed free by hand labor by spraying up to the property lines and letting the poison drift over destroying the agriculture in the free areas
    For some reason this has, in the past, never affectred the drug production areas.

    But with that now legal it isn’t a far stretch from killing off the income producing non-drug crops to taking over valuable farm properties for back taxes. In the end the Oregonians have failed to curtail their fascist government and need to address the problem by using their recall laws against these public officials. It isn’t just weed spraying these embedded union protected employees are in CSD Children Services, the Highway
    Department and other state agencies as well.

    Along with Washington part of the left coast complex of Government Over Citizens

  5. I use Roundup for a few spot locations around my yard. But the thought of a massive spraying campaign, over thousands of acres, is bizarre. Reminds me of the Agent Orange program in Vietnam. I do wonder what is really behind this “weed eradication” initiative. Maybe a developer wants to put the farm out of business, buy the land, and put up a subdivision?

  6. Monsanto

    The TTIP and TiSA Trade Agreements are also the way Monsanto is trying to get into the EU around sovereign laws blocking them

    Monsanto is pure evil

    “The greatest tyrannies are always perpetrated in the name of the noblest causes.” Thomas Paine

  7. I’ve still been looking through the published articles on this and am unable to find any that describe the condition of Azure’s fields or the actual nature of the required spraying. Are the Azure fields overgrown with noxious weeds they have not been trying to control? Or, do they have s few such weeds in places which need to be gone after. Is the county actually requiring the blanket spraying of herbicides over the entire 2,000 acres or are they requiring spot spraying at the locations where the weeds actually exist.

    If we are talking about a few spots, then Azure should immediately get in there and clean out the weeds by other methods. If we are talking acres and acres of 6 foot tall Canada thistle then something much more drastic may need to be done. If it is something in between then Azure needs to immediately submit an alternative plan and show they are working on this plan to control noxious weeds on their property.

    • By listening to the marketing director (David Cross) of Azure Standard, several of your questions are answered. The mandate comes about due to the local county deciding to change the interpretation of it’s statuatory code from control to eradication of noxious weeds. The council decided that control was not enough and they want to eradicate them.

      Mr. Cross goes on to say that the Azure farm in question (Sherman County) already has the specific weeds (mostly Canadian Thistle) under control, but that eradication is far more difficult and thus the injunction to spray their entire 2000 acres on that farm. Because the order is county wide, and because Azure already has the weeds under control, it seems safe to assume that spot infestations are not the issue.

      For the same reason It is unlikely that surrounding farms are in any particular danger since Mr. Cross made clear they had the weeds under control. Also, if that were the case, he would likely have defended Azure Standard from such a charge.

      http://www.theorganicprepper.ca/an-oregon-county-govt-plans-to-douse-azure-standards-organic-farm-in-pesticide-05122017

  8. Thanks Darren. This was really a well argued letter. (You’ve even got Monsanto trolls on the job as of yesterday!) I say, great work!

  9. […] Dr. Charles Benbrook is a highly credentialed research professor and expert serving on several boards of directors for agribusiness and natural resources organizations. Having read news of Sherman County’s actions, he penned an authoritative response I believe will make informative reading for those concerned by present and future implications in the forced use of herbicides under the rubric of noxious weed eradication, and the damage to organic farming generally arising from such mandates… (more) […]

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