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After pesticide drift, Arkansas lawmakers advance dicamba restrictions

by Stephen Steed | January 18, 2017 at 5:45 a.m.

A legislative panel on Tuesday signed off on new restrictions by the state Plant Board for dicamba-based herbicides that can be used on crops this year.

The new Plant Board rules, which also were reviewed and approved by Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this month, will largely keep a new Monsanto herbicide in the farm shed this summer as farmers attend to their soybeans, cotton, fruit and vegetables.

In his review of the proposed restrictions, Hutchinson ordered the Plant Board to set clear rules on future third-party research for manufacturers and companies to follow when seeking to put new products into the Arkansas farm market -- a point of contention last year between the Plant Board and Monsanto. A Plant Board committee is to meet at 1:30 p.m. Friday to begin work on the new third-party rules.

Terry Walker, the Plant Board's director, told lawmakers it has long been Plant Board policy to involve scientists with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in its decisions but that Monsanto, unlike other companies, didn't make its latest herbicide available for third-party study. He said Plant Board members would be happy to put that policy into writing.

Members of the Rules and Regulations Review Subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee had few questions for Walker and offered no debate.

"The Plant Board, in essence, was working blind with a limited amount of data," Walker said. He said Monsanto's original dicamba herbicide, M1691, was no better than the less expensive dicamba already on the market, other data from the company came in late, and the company never worked with UA specialists.

The board's recommendations will keep off the market a technology that Monsanto has said is badly needed by farmers.

The packet of information provided to lawmakers included a point-by-point refutation by UA scientists of some of the claims Monsanto representatives made in a Nov. 21 letter to the Plant Board as part of a public hearing on its proposed restrictions. Monsanto clarified or retracted some of its statements in a follow-up letter a month later.

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The lawmakers' approval is the latest in a series of steps that began last summer when some farmers illegally sprayed older, more volatile formulations of dicamba to fight pigweed and other invasive weeds that have grown resistant to other herbicides.

During the height of the problems with dicamba drift, a northeast Arkansas farmer was fatally shot in what police said was a dispute with another farmer about crop damage. Farmers across Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee reported dicamba damage to some 200,000 acres of various crops, produce and ornamentals.

The farmers who sprayed dicamba were among those who had recently planted Monsanto's new cotton and soybeans that were tolerant of the herbicide. Monsanto marketed the new Xtend seeds before receiving a federal Environmental Protection Agency label for the accompanying herbicide, called Xtendimax.

Monsanto said Xtendimax was less prone to wind drift and less susceptible to "volatilization," a process in which a chemical can vaporize off plants where it has been sprayed and, with high humidity and little or no wind, can land on crops, fruits and vegetables not tolerant of the herbicide.

Walker told lawmakers that Monsanto allowed UA scientists to test only for Xtendimax's efficiency at killing weeds, not whether it is less subject to drift or volatilization.

Two other chemical companies with new herbicides on the market -- Dow and BASF -- allowed UA study, Walker said. BASF's new dicamba herbicide, called Engenia, has been approved by the EPA, as well as the Plant Board, for in-crop use. Engenia will be the only dicamba herbicide legally available for in-crop use in Arkansas this year.

Even though the EPA approved Xtendimax for in-crop use in December, Walker said the EPA label is based on the herbicide's potential effect on endangered species, not on susceptible crops. That, he said, is why states are free to go beyond any EPA restrictions.

The Plant Board's new restrictions prohibit the spraying of any dicamba, except for Engenia, on crops from April 15 through Sept. 15. Dicamba would be allowed on farmland prior to planting or after harvest.

Engenia will be permitted for in-crop use only when there is a quarter-mile downwind buffer and 100-foot buffer in all other directions.

Dicamba on pastureland is allowed anytime, as long as there is a 1-mile buffer between the target pasture and any susceptible vegetation.

Business on 01/18/2017

Print Headline: After pesticide drift, lawmakers advance dicamba restrictions

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