Governor ap­proves 120-day emer­gency ban on dicamba

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - STEPHEN STEED

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son on Fri­day ap­proved a 120-day emer­gency ban on the sale and use of a her­bi­cide sus­pected of dam­ag­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of acres of soy­beans and other crops.

In a let­ter Fri­day af­ter­noon to the state Plant Board, a di­vi­sion of the state Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment, and Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Wes Ward, Hutchin­son said he didn’t agree en­tirely with the rec­om­men­da­tion, which was ap­proved 9-5 by the board on June 23.

“I am con­cerned that more lim­ited op­tions were not fully de­bated and con­sid­ered be­cause of the need for quick ac­tion,” he wrote. “I know the Plant Board also shares my con­cern that this ac­tion is be­ing taken in the mid­dle of a grow­ing sea­son, but the vol­ume of com­plaints do jus­tify emer­gency ac­tion.”

As of Fri­day morn­ing, the board had re­ceived 507 com­plaints of sus­pected dicamba dam­age in 21 coun­ties. Mis­sis­sippi County had the most, with 135. Crit­ten­den County had 74 com­plaints; Craig­head County had 61.

Hutchin­son also ap­proved a way for the Plant Board to ex­pe­dite its role in im­ple­ment­ing stiffer fines for “egre­gious” vi­o­la­tions of Arkansas reg­u­la­tions for spray­ing dicamba. The in­crease in fines — from the cur­rent max­i­mum of $1,000 to as much as $25,000 — will take ef­fect Aug. 1.

The pro­posed ban now goes for re­view to the eight-mem­ber ex­ec­u­tive sub­com­mit­tee of the Arkansas Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil. The sub­com­mit­tee will take up the mat­ter at 1:30 p.m. Wed­nes­day, its co-chair­men, Sen. Bill Sam­ple, R-Hot Springs, and Rep. David Bran­scum, R-Mar­shall, said Fri­day.

Af­ter the com­mit­tee re­views the mea­sure, the Plant Board will file it with the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice, putting it into ef­fect im­me­di­ately. The sub­com­mit­tee’s ap­proval isn’t re­quired for the ban to take ef­fect.

Of fields in­spected by Plant Board in­ves­ti­ga­tors, dam­age caused by dicamba has been con­firmed on about 90 per­cent, Susie Ni­chols, a Plant Board of­fi­cial, told mem­bers of the board’s pes­ti­cide sub­com­mit­tee Fri­day morn­ing. The sub­com­mit­tee is meet­ing ev­ery Fri­day through July 21 on dicamba is­sues.

The num­ber of com­plaints in neigh­bor­ing states also is grow­ing. Mis­souri had 100 and Mis­sis­sippi had 48 as of Fri­day morn­ing, Ni­chols said.

Arkansas is the only state seek­ing to en­act such a ban.

Farm­ers who re­ported dam­age in early June, when they were early into their spray­ing sched­ules, are now re­port­ing that the same fields are get­ting hit for a sec­ond and third time as plants move closer into their re­pro­duc­tive stage. While plants in veg­e­ta­tive stages can grow out of the dam­age, those in re­pro­duc­tive stages will see higher yield losses at har­vest time, weed sci­en­tists for the state have said.

Of some 3.3 mil­lion acres of soy­beans planted in Arkansas this year, about 1.5 mil­lion acres are of Mon­santo’s dicamba-tol­er­ant Xtend beans, the com­pany said last week in de­nounc­ing the Plant Board’s pro­posed ban.

Larry Jay­roe, a Plant Board mem­ber from For­rest City, cited fig­ures de­vel­oped ear­lier this week by Ford Bald­win, a weed con­sul­tant in Austin in Lonoke County.

If 1 mil­lion acres of non-dicamba beans sus­tain av­er­age yield losses of 25 per­cent and at a mar­ket price of $10 a bushel, the loss to farm­ers will be $250 mil­lion, he said. A 20 per­cent cut in per-acre yield will cost farm­ers $200 mil­lion, he said. With farm­ers fac­ing a third straight year of de­creased in­come and lower mar­ket prices, “this could put a bunch of farm­ers out of busi­ness,” Jay­roe said.

Danny Finch, a board mem­ber from Jones­boro, said fi­nan­cial costs this year could be worse than those caused by the 1980 drought. It took farm­ers 10 years to re­cover from the loss of crops and the de­val­u­a­tion of farm­land.

Crop dam­age and yield losses, Finch said, will hurt “widow women” and oth­ers who lease small plots of land to farm­ers. “They’re not go­ing to be happy with the lower rent checks,” he said.

With Mon­santo’s dicamba still be­ing stud­ied by state weed sci­en­tists for any ten­den­cies to drift off tar­get and pro­hib­ited for now in Arkansas, the only dicamba her­bi­cide al­lowed in the state for in-crop use this year is BASF’s En­ge­nia.

Plant Board in­spec­tors are still try­ing to de­ter­mine whether dam­age is be­ing caused by off-tar­get move­ment of En­ge­nia, by the spray­ing of il­le­gal for­mu­la­tions of dicamba, or a com­bi­na­tion of the two.

With the emer­gency ban good for only 120 days, the Plant Board will have to de­cide whether to im­ple­ment a longer-stand­ing ban, to ex­tend it to other her­bi­cides, or to al­low more dicamba-based her­bi­cides into the Arkansas mar­ket, Walker said.

Such de­ci­sions by the board will have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on farm­ers’ de­ci­sions on what to plant and on how many acres, he said.

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