Corn growers in Michigan and Minnesota are waiting to find out whether they can use a new herbicide this spring. “Balance Pro” is used in 17 states, including several in the Great Lakes region (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio). But it’s not used in Minnesota, Michigan, or Wisconsin. Critics say Balance Pro gets into rivers and lakes too easily, and it could harm wildlife or even people. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Corn growers in Michigan and Minnesota are waiting to find out whether they can use a new
herbicide this spring. “Balance Pro” is used in 17 states, including several in the Great Lakes
region (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio). But it’s not used in Minnesota, Michigan, or Wisconsin. Critics say
Balance Pro gets into rivers and lakes too easily, and it could harm wildlife or even people. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Four years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave conditional approval for a new
weed-killer called Balance Pro. It’s made by a division of Bayer, the same company that makes
aspirin. But the EPA still had some worries.
EPA researchers thought the ingredients in Balance might accumulate in irrigation water. Some
people say, if it turns up in irrigation water, it could turn up in drinking water.
“Missouri has had drinking water reservoirs contaminated with this, and contaminated within the
first year of its use.”
Jannette Brimmer is with Minnesota Citizens for Environmental Advocacy. She worries that
Balance could turn into another environmental problem like atrazine. Atrazine is a commonly
used herbicide. It shows up in drinking water in many parts of the country, at very low levels.
Some studies show, even at those low levels, it’s causing deformities in the sexual organs of
frogs, which might be responsible for reductions in frog populations. And Brimmer wonders if
it might be affecting people too.
“In other words, small dosages at the wrong time in fetal development, pregnancy, in a kid, can
have significant impacts. So we have an opportunity to do the right thing before it gets into our
water, before it poses a health threat, before it’s a problem.”
The EPA doesn’t do any tests to find out whether herbicides affect the hormones of frogs or
people. The agency did conduct tests on the reproduction rates of aquatic animals, and found no
But the EPA does have one major concern — the effect Balance might have on other crops.
Officials worry if farmers use water polluted with Balance to irrigate crops like cabbage or
lettuce, the herbicide could hurt crop yields.
Both Michigan and Minnesota are trying to figure out how big a threat that might be. Dan
Stoddard, at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, has been watching the field studies from
other states. He says the results are mixed.
Some of the studies looked at how much Balance got into water supplies. They found lower
concentrations than scientists originally predicted.
But some regions are more vulnerable than others, depending on the type of soil. Dan Stoddard
says areas with coarse or sandy soil, or shallow bedrock, are especially vulnerable.
“What has been considered is some requirements that would restrict use of the product in those
areas. But nonetheless it does have the potential to get into groundwater. What we would
require is additional monitoring to see whether that is in fact happening.”
Stoddard says he’s weighing the risk of polluted water against the benefits Balance might offer.
He’s hearing from companies that have been applying Balance in other states. They say, by
adding the new product to their arsenal, they can cut down on their use of other herbicides.
“If somebody uses the same type of pesticide or herbicide over a few years, weeds can become
resistant and what they wind up having to do is increase the concentration of that product. So
having a new chemistry allows lower application rates of the product.”
Wisconsin recently approved the use of Balance. But the Wisconsin Agriculture Department
there imposed so many restrictions, the company decided not to market it in the state. Bob
Olson is a farmer, active in the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. He says his state is
putting him at a disadvantage compared to other farmers.
“It’s been registered in 17 other corn states. It’s just not been able to be registered here in
Wisconsin because of what we think are undue concerns. And the fact that we can find it in
increasingly smaller quantities. Simply because you can find something, doesn’t mean that level
is ever going to affect anyone.”
Michigan and Minnesota are planning to decide in time for spring planting whether to let
farmers use Balance in their states.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.