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Plant Board sticks with dicamba limit

Ban window on herbicide kicked back to panel that rejected it last month by Stephen Steed | January 4, 2018 at 3:50 a.m.

The state Plant Board on Wednesday stood by its previous proposal to ban in-crop use of dicamba after April 16 as a means to protect crops, fruits and other vegetation susceptible to the herbicide.

The 11-3 vote sends the prohibition on dicamba use on crops from April 16-Oct. 31 back to the same legislative subcommittee that rejected the proposal last month. That panel, the Legislative Council's subcommittee on rules and regulations, is to meet on Jan. 16 to review the board's Wednesday decision.

The Arkansas ban includes an exemption for pastures and rangeland, allowing dicamba to be sprayed as long as any susceptible crops are at least a mile away.

The board's vote followed an hour of discussion, which was preceded by a 2½-hour meeting of a committee in charge of pesticide and herbicide regulations in the state. About 90 people, including board members and staff members, attended the meetings.

Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, who made the motion last month to kick the proposed ban back to the board, joined about five other lawmakers at the subcommittee's meeting and asked a few questions. Some of those questions -- and much of the subcommittee members' responses -- were related to his motion that the board use "scientific evidence" in reconsidering the ban and possibly dividing the state into zones with cutoff dates based on the calendar or on temperatures.

Sample on Wednesday told The Associated Press that he backed the ban after hearing the committee discuss the reasons behind it.

"They did exactly what I asked them to, and I will stick by them in their decision," Sample said.

Terry Walker, director of the Plant Board, cited research showing little difference between median, average and high temperatures in north and south Arkansas at the start of planting season and during the growing season. Such zones would be impossible for regulators to enforce, he said.

Larry Jayroe, the pesticide subcommittee's chairman, said the subcommittee and the full board have met 54 times on dicamba regulations since 2011, when Monsanto Co. announced that it was developing dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton as a way to help farmers nationwide fight weeds that have grown resistant to other herbicides.

Jayroe said the board has listened to farmers, weed scientists and dicamba manufacturers, including Monsanto, in deciding how, or if, dicamba -- an effective weedkiller that also is prone to off-target movement -- can be used in a state with a diversity of crops, many of which can be harmed by the chemical.

The board last year received nearly 1,000 complaints of dicamba damage, primarily to soybeans that are not tolerant of dicamba but also to backyard gardens, ornamental shrubs and trees, vegetables and fruits.

Those complaints resulted in a 120-day emergency ban on in-crop use of dicamba. The ban took effect July 11, with state weed scientists reporting that dicamba was lifting off plants as a vapor many hours after application and moving to distant fields.

On Nov. 8, the Plant Board first voted for the April 16-Oct. 31 ban, based on the recommendations of a special task force, 30 days of public comment and a public hearing.

Monsanto -- and Arkansas farmers who plant the company's dicamba-tolerant seeds -- said the April 16 cutoff date will leave those farmers without an effective tool against pigweed that's now largely resistant to glyphosate, commonly known as Monsanto's Roundup.

The company has sued the Plant Board in Pulaski County Circuit Court for keeping its new form of dicamba, called Xtendimax, out of the Arkansas market in 2017 and for actions that might keep it out of Arkansas this growing season. A hearing on that lawsuit is set for Monday.

Scott Partridge, a Monsanto vice president, called the board's vote "deeply troubling" and said the board "failed to follow the instructions given to it" by the legislative subcommittee. He said in an email that lawmakers "asked the board to hit the pause button, examine all of the relevant scientific data, look at alternatives, and come back with a new recommendation."

The Plant Board, as part of the Arkansas Agriculture Department, is an agency of the executive branch. Under the state constitution, lawmakers can review rules and regulations proposed by most executive agencies but cannot order changes.

Monsanto and the chemical company BASF, whose Engenia dicamba was the only one legal in Arkansas for in-crop use last year, say most problems were caused by farmers failing to follow instructions on spraying or who were using older, more volatile formulations.

Board members Jerry Hyde of Paragould and Marty Eaton of Jonesboro attempted to have the board consider a May 10 cutoff date, allowing most cotton and soybean farmers to spray their emerging plants and weeds with one application of dicamba.

Hyde pleaded for "some flexibility" for farmers.

Eaton said the state should find a "balance of risk and reward" between helping farmers who want to plant dicamba-tolerant crops and those who don't, and other farmers who plant blueberries, watermelons, peanuts and other crops susceptible to dicamba damage.

Rick Cartwright, a nonvoting member who represents the University of Arkansas System's Agriculture Division, said the board has been trying to find that balance for years and is trying to prevent damage with the April 16 cutoff, not just reduce it.

Monsanto opposes cutoffs of any kind, whether by calendar date or by temperature.

Agriculture secretaries in Minnesota, North Dakota and Missouri have instituted such bans. Weed scientists in Iowa have said they can't recommend the use of dicamba as an in-crop herbicide. Only Arkansas has been sued by the company. Farmers in at least four states, including Arkansas, have sued Monsanto and other dicamba manufacturers.

Bob Scott, a UA weed scientist, said such cutoff dates reflect "the risk a state is willing to take" as they consider tighter restrictions.

Because of concerns about dicamba, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a label for the new formulations only for two years. That label will be up for reconsideration after this growing season.

Business on 01/04/2018

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