Arkansas State Plant Board bans dicamba, sends decision to governor and legislators

by George Jared ([email protected]) 445 views 

The Arkansas State Plant Board issued an emergency ban Friday preventing the use and sale of the herbicide dicamba. The ban comes after more than 240 filed damage complaints, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research Extension. The ban will now go to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for consideration, and then it could be sent to legislative subcommittees for consideration. Hay and pastureland are exempt from the emergency ruling.

“Gov. Hutchinson has followed this issue closely and previously tasked Secretary Wes Ward and ASPB Director Terry Walker with visiting farmers in areas with heavy dicamba damage. Hutchinson will be conducting a thorough review of the proposed rule as soon as possible,” Arkansas Agriculture Department Director of Communications Adriane Barnes told Talk Business & Politics.

ASPB also seeks to speed implementation of enhanced penalties for misuse, with fines up to $25,000 for each infraction. Engenia is the only dicamba herbicide permitted in Arkansas for row crop production past April 15 and it can be used with dicamba tolerant crops. Soybeans without the tolerance, peanuts and some fruit and garden crops are highly sensitive to dicamba.

Dicamba drift complaints have risen significantly this year and it even interfered with a study of how dicamba drift impacts soybean crops in Mississippi County, according to a report by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research Extension. Drift infiltrated 100 acres being used for research near Keiser. The herbicide is primarily used on cotton plants in Northeast and eastern Arkansas, weed specialist Dr. Tom Barber noted in the report. Cotton is often planted in near proximity to soybean fields and the herbicide can cause damage to that crop, he said.

The emergency rule goes next to Gov. Hutchinson for review, who would then refer it to the Arkansas Legislative Council Executive Subcommittee. If the rule passes muster with the governor and legislators, it would take effect upon being filed with the secretary of state’s office. It would be in effect for 120 days.

The plant board’s ruling is not necessarily a rubber stamp on the issue for the governor and legislators. There were many individuals signed up to speak against the board’s action who never were given a chance to voice their concerns, according to several observers at Friday’s meeting. Also, the plant board mired itself in additional controversy last week by taking a vote outside of procedural rules before correcting the action on Friday.

As of Friday according to ASPB personnel, there were 247 complaints alleging dicamba misuse. On June 11, the board had received 27 complaints. The following week, the number of complaints stood at 62 and by June 21, there were 153 complaints.

The complaints covered 19 counties: Ashley, Chicot, Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Desha, Greene, Jackson, Jefferson, Lee, Little River, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, St. Francis, White and Woodruff. Mississippi County had the highest number of complaints at 81, Craighead had 34, and Crittenden 32.

In 2016, there were 32 dicamba drift-related complaints filed with the ASPB. The chemical is highly regulated in Arkansas because of how sensitive soybeans are to it. The weather may have had something to do with some improper applications by farmers, Barber said.

“Bad weather makes it very difficult to get in the fields and make proper applications,” Barber said. “A lot of farmers or applicators may have sprayed in conditions that were not ideal for spraying, but were ideal for drift, but we rely on the ASPB to make these final determinations.”

Because of high winds during the day, Barber said he’s been told some farmers and applicators may have chosen to spray at night when there was no wind. Temperature inversions are common when there’s no wind at night, holding the volatile spray above the canopy, he said. Drift can then occur when wind returns in the morning.

Physical drift accounts for at least 80-90% of all the dicamba injured fields that he’s observed, Barber said. While improper application may account for much of the reported dicamba drift, Barber said most farmers and applicators are following the regulations and applying dicamba properly.

Barber said 10-20% of the injury has occurred even when everything appears to have been done correctly. One likely possibility is that dicamba droplets are attaching to dust particles after applications are made. There is growing evidence in the fields that points toward dicamba moving with dust, he said.

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