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Plant Board OKs 2 weed-kill systems

by Glen Chase | December 19, 2014 at 1:52 a.m.

The state Plant Board approved two regulatory changes Thursday that will allow two new 2,4-D and dicamba-based weed control systems to be used by Arkansas row crop farmers.

But in granting approval to Dow AgroSciences' "Enlist Duo" and Monsanto Company's "Xtend Roundup Ready Crop System," board members stressed that training farmers and their crop consultants will be key to ensuring that the herbicides won't accidentally drift onto sensitive crops adjacent to where the new technology is used.

Chairman George Tidwell of Lonoke said that it was time for the agency to act after about two years of evaluating the competing systems because farmers generally are dealing more with weeds resistant to existing herbicides.

"I think the chemistry is there to change the physics of potential drift" during application, Tidwell said after the vote. But he said volatility -- the ability of a liquid to turn into vapor and move off target -- still exists.

And given that farmers, rather than sticking to a single crop, have begun planting different row crops both to alternate plantings and as a way to manage the risk of ever-changing commodity prices, avoiding drift will be key, he said. "That's going to be the kicker, right there."

Both Enlist Duo and Xtend need federal approval before they can be used in Arkansas.

The Enlist Duo system involves genetically-modified soybean and corn seeds that are resistant to 2,4-D, allowing the herbicide to kill weeds, but not the crop being grown. The Xtend system uses genetically modified soybean and cotton seeds so dicamba can be applied to kill weeds.

Dow's system, approved for use in six states by the Environmental Protection Agency, is now being evaluated for use in Arkansas and nine other states. Monsanto's system is still awaiting EPA approval, although the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week issued a draft environmental impact statement saying its genetically modified seeds should be unregulated after issuing a similar finding for Dow's seeds earlier this year.

During public hearings on the proposed rule changes Thursday, speakers expressed concern both for the need for new tools to combat rising numbers of herbicide-resistant weeds and the threat posed by "off-target movement" of 2,4-D and dicamba onto fruit and vegetable farms, as well as other vegetation adjacent to cotton, corn and soybean fields where either system might be in use.

Boyce Wofford of Alma, a member of the Save Our Crops Coalition and a field representative for Sager Creek Vegetable Co., the company that took over the bankrupt Allens Co., said vegetable crops have no tolerance for drift from herbicides such as dicamba, noting that some studies have indicated dicamba is the third most common herbicide involved in drift problems.

But he praised the Plant Board for taking steps to impose limits on droplet size to minimize drift and volatility, as well as adopting a rule barring application on days when the wind is 10 mph or faster or when a neighbor's crop might be downwind.

Before the board's vote on the dicamba regulation, member Ray Vester of Stuttgart said the issue boils down to educating users.

"People have got to control themselves so we don't have the same problem year after year," Vester said.

Growers, their consultants and manufacturers need to be good neighbors, he said, "or we're going to have the same problems."

But another member, Jerry Hyde of Paragould, said herbicide drift has been a problem in the past despite training efforts.

Tidwell agreed that there's the potential for problems and that approving the two weed-control systems will "cause us some headaches." But he said the board needs to "go forward with the technologies and get some real world data."

In adopting the rule changes, members Hyde and Danny Finch of Jonesboro voted against the 2,4-D revision. No votes were cast against the rule allowing the dicamba-based system.

Spokesmen for Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto have said the companies are planning a slow commercial introduction once state and federal approvals are granted.

Duane Simpson, regional director of state and local government affairs for Monsanto, agreed that training will be key for dealers, growers, technical advisers and others both for safe use as well as to prevent their product from overuse to the point that weeds develop resistant strains.

Darryl Little, the plant board's director, said after the meeting that his agency recognizes the potential for drift problems.

"We have that problem every year with herbicides," he said. "But I don't know if they are going to be substantial. We just don't know."

Business on 12/19/2014

Print Headline: Plant Board OKs 2 weed-kill systems


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