Dicamba ban heads to law­mak­ers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM -

STEPHEN STEED

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.

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