A Tuesday dicamba ban faces one if
A 120-day emergency ban on the sale and use of dicamba will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday unless the Arkansas Legislative Council objects.
The panel’s eight-member executive subcommittee took no action Friday afternoon on the ban, which was proposed on June 23 by the state Plant Board, a division of the state Department of Agriculture. The subcommittee’s inaction followed a three-hour meeting of the House and Senate committees on agriculture, forestry and economic development.
The ban also had been endorsed, with some reluctance, by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The Plant Board has received more than 600 complaints of alleged dicamba damage to soybeans, cotton, fruits and vegetables since the first week of June.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang, RBeebe, said the lack of action by the executive subcommittee reflected some lawmakers’ misgivings about banning a herbicide in the middle of farmers’ growing season but added, “We can’t say the Plant Board made the wrong decision.”
Arkansas farmers have planted about 1.5 million acres of dicamba-tolerant soybeans, developed by Monsanto. Another 1.5 million acres of Arkansas soybeans, however, aren’t genetically modified and are highly susceptible to damage by the herbicide, as are fruits, vegetables, shrubs and trees.
Only one dicamba-based herbicide — BASF’s Engenia — is legal in Arkansas this year for in-crop use as a defense against pigweed. All other formulations of dicamba are illegal because of
their propensity to drift or to lift from targeted crops at night, during a climate process called inversion, and move, in either a gas or liquid form, to distant fields.
Plant Board inspectors are still looking into whether Engenia is moving off target to susceptible plants, whether it’s being misapplied by farmers and whether farmers are using illegal but less-expensive dicamba formulations. Lawmakers need answers to those questions and others, Dismang said. Engenia would fall under the ban.
The ban will take effect early Tuesday unless a majority of the Legislative Council’s 60 members sign a letter by Monday requesting a meeting on the proposal, said Dismang, who also is Senate president pro tempore. Dismang told reporters after the subcommittee’s meeting that he didn’t expect lawmakers to take that action. Such a meeting, by law, also must be held by Monday, Dismang said.
Earlier Friday, lawmakers on House and Senate agriculture committees heard testimony from about 20 farmers and others before voting to support the Plant Board’s ban.
David Wildy, who farms cotton, soybeans, corn and peanuts in Mississippi County, said he will sustain about $1 million in crop losses this season. He said that estimate was conservative.
“This is the worst and most contentious issue I’ve seen in my 43 years of farming,” Wildy said.
Wildy said farmers need new technology “but we can’t tolerate any technology that won’t stay on target.” A 120day ban, he said, “is not unreasonable.” Perry Galloway of Gregory in Woodruff County told lawmakers he opposed the ban. He said Engenia is working well on his dicamba-tolerant crops, with one exception: His dicamba drifted onto a neighbor’s conventional beans. “That wasn’t the technology’s fault. That was my fault,” he said. “We were having some good luck [against weeds], and we might have pushed the wind [limits] a little.”
While he is mostly finished with is spraying, Galloway said, a ban will push some farmers into using illegal formulations of dicamba.
Karen Hawkins of Leachville, whose brother, Mike Wallace, was shot and killed in October during a dispute with another farmer over dicamba damage to Wallace’s soybeans, said her family and farm friends pleaded last fall with the Plant Board to institute a ban on all dicamba products this season. The board, instead, approved the Engenia product but with restrictions.
Her family’s peanuts have suffered dicamba damage, she said, as have vegetables from a 10-acre plot inside Leachville city limits. “There’s not a dicamba field for at least a quarter-mile,” she said.
Soybeans at a University of Arkansas experiment station and at two fields operated by Bayer Crop Science are the focus among the latest complaints of dicamba damage.
Bayer, which this year opened a $6 million soybean breeding and research center in Marion in Crittenden County, filed two complaints June 26, alleging damage to soybean fields near Marion and at Etowah in Mississippi County. The complaint report didn’t specify how much acreage was damaged or identify a farmer or herbicide applicator who may have sprayed the herbicide.
Ryan Sullivan, Bayer’s farm manager who filed the complaint, declined to comment earlier this week.
On June 23, officials at the Lon Mann Cotton Research Station at Marianna reported damage to soybeans along Arkansas 1 in Lee County. The research station is operated by the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture. Another UA soybean test plot, at Keiser in Mississippi County, was damaged in June, resulting in about 100 acres of beans being plowed up and replanted.
“Most of the soybeans show symptoms of dicamba damage to varying degrees,” Claude Kennedy, the resident director of the Marianna research station, said.
“This is my first experience with it,” Kennedy said of the herbicide. “The beans got hit in the early growth stages. Some say there’s a chance of it growing out of the damage. But if dicamba hits during the blooming stages, a loss in yield will be much worse.”
Cotton at the research farm, so far, is unscathed, he said.
In Missouri, where farmers filed more than 120 complaints a year ago, Agriculture Department officials have reported 123 dicamba-related complaints this year. After accepting complaints last year by telephone, Missouri officials now require formal complaints to be filed on paper. Arkansas officials accept complaints by telephone.
On Friday, Missouri banned the sale and use of dicamba.
Agriculture officials in Mississippi and Tennessee also have reported an increase in complaints as farmers get deeper into spraying schedules.