Panel raises farmer’s dicamba fines
With an emergency ban on the sale and use of dicamba only hours away from taking effect, a subcommittee of the state Plant Board on Monday took aim at a Missouri boot heel cotton farmer accused of repeatedly spraying illegally in Arkansas and damaging other farmers’ soybeans.
Richard Zolman of Arbyrd, Mo., had agreed to a proposed settlement of $3,200 in fines for five separate violations last year. Instead, the pesticide subcommittee of the Plant Board voted to levy a $1,000 fine — the maximum under current law — for each violation, for a total of $5,000.
Dicamba is a widely available herbicide used by farmers against pigweed, which is now resistant to a glyphosate herbicide commonly known as Roundup, or in early-season “burndown” of cropland prior to planting. However, Zolman is accused of spraying in 2016 when there were no legal dicamba herbicides for in-crop use.
As of Monday morning, the Plant Board had received 622 complaints of alleged dicamba damage from 23 counties, mostly to soybean varieties that are not genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide. Other farmers are reporting damage to fruits and vegetables. Damage to trees, shrubs and private vegetable gardens in the middle of towns across eastern Arkansas has been reported.
Zolman had similar violations in 2015, said Danny Finch of Jonesboro, a farmer and member of the Plant Board and its pesticide subcommittee. “These jokers did it the year before,” he said. “They sprayed the cheapest dicamba completely off label.”
Zolman also was accused
in 2016 of failing to record what chemicals he used, the date he sprayed them, and wind direction and temperatures — all required under state regulations for pesticide applicators.
Finch asked that the proposed settlements — ranging from $600 to $800 each — that had been reached between Zolman and Plant Board regulators be increased to the maximum. “These people are laughing at us,’’ he said.
A new Arkansas law to increase penalties to as much as $25,000 per violation won’t take effect until Aug. 1 because state House and Senate sponsors of the legislation that passed this year did not include an emergency clause.
“They’re going to keep doing this until we shut them down,” Finch said. “We have to hit their pocketbooks.
Broke people don’t farm.”
Zolman can appeal the new proposed fines and ask for a hearing.
The onslaught of complaints led to the Plant Board’s June 23 recommendation of a ban on all dicamba sales and use, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s endorsement of the ban on June 30, and the approval Friday by two legislative committees.
Arkansas’ 120-day emergency ban took effect at 12:01 a.m. today.
While some farmers and legislators last week questioned the effectiveness of a midseason ban, because many soybean farmers may be nearly done with spraying, Finch said many cotton farmers are early in their spraying schedules.
The ban and the stiffer fines will have an effect on farmers’ compliance with the law the rest of the season, he said.
The ban in Arkansas specifically affects BASF’s Engenia herbicide, although all
other dicamba formulations on the market are illegal for in-crop use because they are prone to off- target movement.
Engenia may be used on pastureland in Arkansas, with restrictions previously approved by the Plant Board.
In Missouri on Friday, that state’s agriculture secretary instituted a temporary emergency ban on three dicamba products registered in Missouri for in-crop use: Engenia, FeXapan by DuPont, and Xtendimax with VaporGrip by Monsanto, the St. Louisbased chemical and seed giant.
Those companies’ dicambabased herbicides were allowed into the market by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, in part because they contain an additive that was believed to make them less prone to physical drift to adjacent fields or, under the right climate conditions, to convert overnight into liquid droplets or into a gas and move to
susceptible fields miles away.
Arkansas farmers have planted about 3.5 million acres of soybeans this year. Monsanto has said its dicamba-tolerant beans are on about 1.5 million acres in Arkansas, while BASF has said its Engenia dicamba is on about 700,000 acres.
Arkansas farmers have planted 440,000 acres of cotton this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimates earlier this month. About 70 percent of that cotton is dicamba tolerant.
Whether in soybeans or cotton, some farmers planted dicamba-tolerant seeds, with no intention of using the herbicide, as buffer zones for their other crops.
At the time of announcing the ban in Missouri, officials there reported receiving 134 complaints. Mississippi officials have reported 56. Kansas officials have reported 40. Tennessee had received about 30 complaints as of late June.