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Monsanto and Dicamba, a drama of Shakespearean proportions

(BUSINESS NEWS) Agriculture is easily the world’s most important industry but what happens when seed companies and chemical companies start battling?

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Let’s talk about weeds.

Not that kind of weed. Fun as it is to write about, socioeconomically speaking weed has nothing on weeds. Really get your head around the following number: per the USDA, and they’d know, as of 2012, 41 percent of the land area of the United States was used for agriculture.

That’s not “arable land” or “cleared land” or any other qualifier. All of it. From the peaks of the Rockies to the bit under the squeaky spot in your shower, two-fifths of this absurdly large country is used for one industry.

Between that and, yknow, keeping everybody from starving, agriculture is the Most Important Thing. Anything that changes how agriculture works quite literally changes the country.

Right now, there’s a scary consensus building among experts that it’s changing for the worse.

This is a tale of two names. The first is one you’ve probably heard. In fact, if you’re interested in agriculture or just follow the news (at quality outlets like American Genius, you well-informed, conscientious and terribly attractive person, you) you probably saw this name coming as soon as you knew this was about crops and drama: Monsanto.

Monsanto is a gigantic deal. They’re the world’s biggest seed supplier, with 26 percent of the global market. In particular, they’re far and away the leading seller of genetically modified seed. Roughly 40 percent of cropland in the United States is planted with crops that have patented Monsanto data in their eeny little genes.

They’re also drama magnets. They got straight-up busted for falsifying accounting data in 2016, and they’re under constant fire from folks who have a problem with genetically modified crops in general, since those are Monsanto’s large, seed-filled, faintly glowing bag.

That’s not the problem. The problem is they may be killing crops.

That brings us to the second name: dicamba. Dicamba is a weed killer, patented in 1967 and sold as Banvel, Diablo, Oracle and Vanquish, which I’m pretty sure were my first four WoW characters.

Obviously, dicamba isn’t new. What’s new is that Monsanto has formulated dicamba-resistant seed. That’s a big deal. The thing about plant killers is that they kill plants. As a rule, if you hose down your farm with a herbicide, you stop having a farm pretty quickly.

Monsanto is Monsanto because they changed that. They developed herbicide-resistant crops, specifically resistant to a plant killer called glyphosate.

You may have assaulted a dandelion or two with glyphosate yourself; it’s RoundUp. For decades, you could spray your fields with RoundUp and only the bad stuff would die. 80 flipping percent of American crops are grown from glyphosate-resistant seed, and Monsanto invented it.

Unfortunately, as a wise man once said while fleeing velociraptors, life… finds a way. Weeds are developing glyphosate resistance, or being displaced by species that already have it.

Monsanto needed to make lightning strike twice, and they chose dicamba. They engineered dicamba-resistant cotton and soybean seed and got it on the market, fast.

Then, crops started dying.

There’s no question that’s happening. According to a 2017 survey, 3.1 million acres of crops showed damage from drifting dicamba. The question is what’s causing it, and how (and whether) we can make it stop.

The problem is volatilization. Tl;dr on volatilization is that once administered, herbicides evaporate, forming clouds that move, condense and fall on other plants in unpredictable ways. Dicamba is infamously bad about that. Monsanto, as well as BASF and Du Pont, claimed to have formulated low-volatility versions that solved that problem.

Agriculture scientists and farmers alike have questioned those claims. Reports from multiple parts of the 26 million acres of land now planted with dicamba-resistant seed have described crop damage consistent with volatilization, the problem Monsanto et al said they’d fixed.

Monsanto’s argument is that the damage is just growing pains, the unavoidable consequences and human error that go with bringing a new product to market. The company claims that in 88 percent of cases investigated by Monsanto, the new herbicide had not been used in accordance with directions.

But scientists were able to replicate the effect in controlled conditions: a field sprayed according to Monsanto’s rules for low-volatility dicamba damaged an unsprayed field nearby, just by sharing the same air. According to those scientists, the patterns of crop damage also conflict with the Monsanto claim.

Monsanto is already fielding accusations of rushing or scamming scientific oversight on other products. Weed scientists are making similar accusations about dicamba-resistant seed. Whether that’s the case here or not has yet to be determined.

What is not in debate is that America’s most important industry is facing a serious problem. How – and whether – it gets fixed will have repercussions well beyond Monsanto’s market share.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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Business News

Think LuLaRoe is a pyramid scheme? Founders say your opinion’s uneducated

(BUSINESS NEWS) LuLaRoe Founders fight back against allegations saying that they’re a disruptive business model, not a pyramid scheme, and anyone that disagrees is uneducated…

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Clothing company LuLaRoe insists that they are not a “pyramid scheme” despite recent class-action lawsuits claiming that the company lured retailers into buying thousands of dollars’ worth of unsellable merchandise.

LuLaRoe uses “multi-level marketing” to sell their products, meaning that the company sells merchandise to “consultants” – most of them women working from home who resell the merchandise to their neighbors and friends at home parties. The idea is that moms who want to stay home with the kids will have an independent way of making an income.

Last month, two class-action lawsuit were filed against LuLaRoe, claiming that the company makes the vast majority of its profits off of women who sign up to be consultants, rather than from sales to the end-users.

Plaintiffs say they have lost thousands of dollars because LuLaRoe aggressively pushes consultants to buy up to $20,000 worth of merchandise that can’t sell, either because the markets is flooded, or because the products are poor – one suit claiming that the fabrics tear like “wet toilet paper.”

“The vast majority of consultants sitting at the bottom of defendants’ pyramid were and remain destined for failure and unable to turn any profit,” says one suit. “Some resulted in financial ruin due to pressure to max out credit cards and to take loans to purchase inventory.”

The suits further claim that when women have tried to get out of the business, LuLaRoe has refused to take back and refund unsold merchandise, while also telling former consultants that they can no longer sell the products. Thus, consultants are stuck with thousands of dollars of merchandise that they can’t sell sitting in their garages and basements.

Deanne and Mark Stidham, founders of LuLaRose, tell CBS that it isn’t a pyramid scheme and that anyone who thinks so has an “uneducated opinion.”

Says Deanne Stidham, “You get the product, you put it before people, and you sell it, and you have money, and that’s the simplicity of this business and that’s as easy as it can be.”

The Stidhams implied that jealous retailers were encouraging plaintiffs to sue because the LuLaRoe model has been “disruptive in the marketplace.”

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Class action lawsuit claims Tesla plant is a hotbed of racism

(BUSINESS NEWS) Tesla is being hit with another lawsuit, this time alleging discrimination at one of their plants. No wonder Musk wants to get to Mars…

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Groundbreaking automaker Tesla may be the future of automotive transportation, but when it comes to discrimination, some say the company seems to be living in the past.

This week, the company received notice that they would be brought to court by a group of black workers filing a class action lawsuit. The suit states that the Tesla’s Fremont, California production plant is a “hotbed of racist behavior.”

The suit was filed by former employee Marcus Vaughn in the California state court in Oakland and is the third lawsuit filed this year by black workers and former workers from Tesla.

Vaughn, who began working in the factory in April, says that his supervisors regularly referred to him using racial slurs. When he wrote a complaint to the human resources department, they were unresponsive. Then in October, Vaughn was fired for “not having a positive attitude.”

Tesla is denying the claims, saying that they did investigate the incidents, and fired three workers as a result. The company went so far as to post a statement called “Hotbed of Misinformation” on its website on Wednesday, saying that the company is “absolutely against any form of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment of any kind.”

In May, Musk sent an email to all employees telling them that should never “allow someone to feel excluded, uncomfortable or unfairly treated.” However, he also said that workers should “be thick-skinned.”

Vaughn’s lawyer, Lawrence Organ, who also sued Tesla on behalf of three black Tesla workers last month, responded that “The law doesn’t require you to have a thick skin. When you have a diverse workforce, you need to take steps to make sure everyone feels welcome in that workforce.”

Tesla is also facing lawsuits claiming that the company discriminates against gay and older workers, and last month, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union filed a complaint to the federal labor board, saying that Tesla had fired workers for supporting unionization.

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Harvard digs into how several women broke the glass ceiling

(BUSINESS NEWS) At an increasing pace, the glass ceiling is being shattered, but what did it ACTUALLY take for individual women to do just that?

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More than ever, women are breaking the glass ceiling in businesses. However, progress is still very slow, with the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies only increasing little by little each year.

The Rockefeller Foundations’ 100×25 initiative hopes to have 100 female CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies by 2025. To this end, they’ve given a grant to Korn Ferry, a recruiting firm, to find “research-based tools and strategies” for launching more women into executive positions.

Korn Ferry teamed up with Harvard Business Review researchers to interview and assess 57 female CEOs to find out the plot points and personality traits led to their business success. From these observations, they’ve made some crucial recommendations for how companies can get more women into top positions. Here’s what they discovered.

First of all, the study found that women had to work harder and longer to get to the top than men. They held more positions, worked for more companies, and were an average of four years older than their male counterparts.

Secondly, the study also found that female CEOs were motivated by different factors than male CEOs. They were less interested in status and rewards than they were in collaboration and in participating in something that would contribute positively to company culture or to the community as a whole.

The study also identified four common characteristics of female CEOs: courage, risk-taking, resilience, and managing ambiguity. Breaking the glass ceiling in and of itself required women to face fears, take on challenges, and stay in the fight even when discouraged.

Despite these powerful personality traits, female CEOs were found to be more humble than male CEOs. They spent less time promoting themselves and were more likely to be thankful for their coworkers and supporters, and to give credit to others for their successes or their company’s successes. Female CEOs saw themselves as a part of a team and understood that no single person was responsible for defining the company or making it successful.

The study discovered that very few female CEOs had envisioned themselves making it that far. Only five grew up dreaming of being a CEO, and two-thirds said that they didn’t even think about being a CEO until a mentor or boss encouraged them.

Lastly, the study found that female CEOs had strong backgrounds in STEM, as well as business, finance, and economics. None of the CEOs started their careers in human resources, a department that is often heavily staffed by women.

From these findings, the researchers made several suggestions to strengthen the “pipeline” of women into top positions. This included identifying women with potential earlier and giving them more opportunities and guidance, including mentors and sponsors. It also suggested describing leadership roles in terms that resonate with women by showing how the role will give them a chance to add value to the business and do something positive in the world.

Finally, the researchers warned to beware of the “glass cliff,” wherein women are only given leadership opportunities when the company is in crisis or when there is a high chance of failure. Instead, companies are encouraged to give women a chance when the brand is doing well, or if you must put them in a high-risk position, help them bounce back so that it doesn’t ruin their career.

Read more on the study at Harvard Business Review.

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