Dicamba ban heads to lawmakers
A proposed ban on dicamba, a herbicide believed to have caused damage to thousands of acres of soybeans and other crops and produce, has been referred to legislative committees.
The proposal — as recommended June 23 by the state Plant Board and backed a week later by Gov. Asa Hutchinson — got a cool, if not hostile, reception Wednesday from the eight-member executive subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council.
The subcommittee referred the proposed ban to a special joint meeting at 9 a.m. Friday of the House and Senate committees on agriculture, forestry and economic development. The executive subcommittee will take up the matter again, at 1 p.m. Friday.
As of noon Wednesday, the Plant Board, a division of the state Department of Agriculture, had received 551 complaints of damage to soybeans, cotton, vegetables and fruit, up from 25 complaints four weeks ago.
The increasing numbers led Hutchinson to sign on to a 120day emergency ban on the sale and use of dicamba.
Only one dicamba-based herbicide — BASF’s — has been approved for in-crop use in Arkansas. All other formulations of dicamba are illegal because of their propensity to drift or to lift from targeted crops at night, during a temperature process called inversion, and move, in either a gas or liquid form, to distant fields.
“I am concerned that more limited options were not fully debated and considered because of the need for quick action,” Hutchinson wrote in approving the board’s proposed ban. “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.”
While putting that matter off until Friday, the subcommittee did approve the Plant Board’s request to expedite its role in implementing stiffer fines for “egregious” violations of Arkansas regulations for spraying dicamba. Those fines, which take effect Aug. 1, increase the current maximum fine of $1,000 to as much as $25,000.
Only one of the eight members of the Legislative Council’s executive subcommittee — Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia — represents a district where soybeans are grown. The seven others represent districts where agricultural production primarily is in cattle, timber and pastureland.
Gillam and other subcommittee members noted that thousands of Arkansas farmers planted new dicamba-tolerant soybeans in expectations of having a legal herbicide they could use the entire growing season. Monsanto released the dicamba-tolerant seed before
the federal Environmental Protection Agency had approved the accompanying dicamba herbicide.
Gillam, a farmer who primarily grows blueberries, asked “how in the world?” the Plant Board could approve BASF’s Engenia herbicide last December and, six months later, recommend banning the product.
Terry Walker, the Plant Board’s director, agreed those farmers are in a predicament but, even with a ban on dicamba, still have options — chemically and manually — to control weeds in their fields. He said the board had an obligation to protect farmers who chose not to plant the Monsanto soybeans, farmers with fruit crops and residents with vegetable gardens.
“If I have a 2-acre ‘truck patch,’ that 2 acres is just as important to me as a hundred acres of soybeans” are to another farmer, Walker said, referring to farmers who sell their vegetables and fruit from roadsides.
Farmers who planted the resistant crops, sold as Xtend, wanted a dicamba herbicide, and the Plant Board voted, after months of study, to give them one, he said.
The Engenia product had
been tested over the years by state weed scientists for both its efficacy against weeds and for any tendencies to drift with the wind or to volatilize off targeted fields and move to susceptible crops, Walker said, adding it is impossible for weed scientists to replicate, on test plots, the effects of largescale spraying of dicamba.
The proposed ban would not apply to forage and pasture, although there are buffers and other restrictions in place.
Arkansas farmers planted about 3.3 million acres of soybeans this year. Monsanto has said its dicamba tolerant beans are on about 1.5 million acres.
More than half of the 551 complaints have come from four counties — Mississippi, Crittenden, Craighead and Poinsett. Complaints also have come in from 19 other counties, extending west to Pulaski County and southwest to Little River County.
Almost all of those complaints are still being investigated, Walker said. Plant Board inspectors have had on-site visits for 200 to 250 of those complaints and determined that dicamba was the source of damage on at least 90 percent of those fields.
Whether the damage was caused by physical drift, inversion or misapplication by the farmer is still being determined, he said.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang, RBeebe, an accountant who is Senate president pro tempore, questioned how the Plant Board could recommend a ban without knowing how many acres have been damaged or how much yield loss farmers could face.
Walker said it takes two to three weeks before symptoms of dicamba damage become apparent, and that yield losses will be determined by damage that remains on plants once they bloom, or reach their reproductive stages. Most Arkansas soybeans haven’t reached that stage, he said.
Some farmers planted soybeans later than others and some, especially in northeast Arkansas, had to replant their beans because of floods and heavy rains in late April and early May, Walker said.
The meeting Friday of the House and Senate agriculture committees will be in Room A of the Multi-Agency Complex, just west of the Capitol building’s northern entrance. The executive subcommittee will meet in room 205 of the Capitol.