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KEISER -- Despite being banned for in-crop use this summer in Arkansas, dicamba is a suspect in damage to thousands of acres of soybeans and to vegetables, backyard gardens and trees.

Farmers and regulators in other soybean-producing states that have allowed dicamba, even with some restrictions, have reported similar damage this year, a repeat from a year ago.

On Thursday, two regulators with the federal Environmental Protection Agency visited state-funded research fields in Mississippi County hit for the second-consecutive year by dicamba. Use of the herbicide on crops has been banned in the state since April 16.

The inspectors' visit, which also took them to other farms in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri this week, was part of the agency's work in deciding whether to re-register dicamba formulations produced by Monsanto, BASF and DowDupont. The current two-year registration for those products expires Nov. 9, and the EPA has said it expects to make a decision in August or September. EPA representatives are conducting similar tours in other states.

The state Plant Board, a division of the Arkansas Agriculture Department, had received 176 dicamba complaints as of Friday, compared with about 750 this time last year. The board also has received complaints of 2,4-D damage to cotton.

In Manila, in northeast Arkansas, Darrell Birmingham said his 89-year-old grandmother's small commercial crop of tomatoes, trays of tomato plants, her vegetable garden and ornamentals have been damaged.

Birmingham, who filed a complaint with the Plant Board on June 26 on behalf of Mildred Ramsey and her 58-year-old business, Ramsey's Plants, said damage was first noticed in early May.

"A few days after that, she noticed the garden started wilting out, none of the peppers came out, the tomato vines dried out and now a big 20-foot-tall Bradford pear tree looks like a telephone pole," Birmingham said.

No one has come forward to acknowledge any mistakes, Birmingham said. "If that farmer came forward with a box of tomatoes or some corn, he'd have a friend for life," he said.

The ban on dicamba, with exceptions for use around the home and pastureland, was implemented after the Plant Board received nearly 1,000 complaints last season. The ban effectively removed dicamba as a legal tool for farmers this year in a battle against pigweed that has grown resistant to other herbicides.

Only BASF's Engenia was allowed in Arkansas last year. Farmers here who used the herbicide praised its effectiveness against pigweed and touted high yields in the fall, but weed scientists in Arkansas and other states say even the newer formulations of dicamba can "volatilize" off plants as a vapor as much as 96 hours after application and move to susceptible crops and other vegetation.

The manufacturers said applicator error was mostly to blame and, this year, expanded training sessions to thousands of farmers in states where the new dicamba formulations could still be applied. The new formulations of dicamba were developed to go along with the introduction by Monsanto of dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans over the past three years.

While the complaints this year are still being investigated, Plant Board officials and weed scientists believe some farmers sprayed dicamba illegally in Arkansas well after the April 16 cutoff date because it takes seven to 21 days for dicamba symptoms to show.

The University of Arkansas System Agriculture Division's soybean research fields at Keiser, also in Mississippi County, have been hit twice, in early June and in early July.

Similar damage was reported in May and June at UA's Lon Mann Cotton Research Station at Marianna.

The EPA regulators, who declined to comment, also toured Reelfoot Lake, near Memphis, where bald cypress trees reportedly have been damaged by herbicide drift, and Bader Farms in Campbell, Mo., where thousands of peach trees allegedly have been damaged or killed by off-target movement of dicamba the past two years. UA weed scientists and Plant Board staff members accompanied the EPA regulators.

"If something's not done, there's not going to be any produce grown in this part of the state," said Gary Goodwin of Trumann, owner and operator of Two Seasons Fresh Market in the Poinsett County town. Goodwin filed a complaint about possible damage with the Plant Board on June 28.

Goodwin sells tomatoes that he raises on 3 acres, and other fruit and vegetables raised locally, as well as catfish from the nearby St. Francis River. He has replanted a lot of his tomatoes, hoping to have a second harvest in September. "I think folks who aren't farmers needed to be considered," he said.

The Plant Board helped coordinate the EPA visit, and the state Agriculture Department held a conference call Thursday morning with other EPA officials, Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward said Friday. "They're doing their due diligence," Ward said. "I was glad they came to Arkansas to see what things look like, the good and the bad, to see things first hand and not just read a report."

Business on 07/28/2018

Print Headline: EPA visits fields hurt by dicamba

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  • Jfish
    July 28, 2018 at 6:55 a.m.

    As Dr. Reggie Cullom from the area pointed out a few weeks ago, just imagine what it could potentially be doing to people's long term health? This is Big Agriculture (wealthy farmers) at its finest thumbing its nose at common sense regulations in the name of making more money. And by the way, where is the usual quote from the Arkansas Farm Bureau that says all farmers are good stewards of the land and would never do anything intentionally to harm the environment? It sure seems to me that spraying a banned substance is knowing, willful and intentional.

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