Arkansas Plant Board votes for usage of dicamba

Petition proposes end date, permits

The state Plant Board gave tentative approval Monday to allowing dicamba for in-crop use next year, though the matter won't be settled for several more weeks.

The board approved a formal "petition for rule making" filed by a group of farmers last month asking for a June 15 cutoff date on spraying a herbicide linked to damage to crops and to other vegetation not tolerant of the chemical the last three growing seasons in Arkansas and other states. The petition asked that spraying of dicamba after June 15 be allowed only by special permit.

Franklin Fogleman of Marion, a Crittenden County farmer who drew up the petition on behalf of 27 other farmers, told the board in his 20-minute presentation that "a large portion of Arkansas farmers" need dicamba to fight pigweed that has grown resistant to other herbicides.

The petition also sets buffers for susceptible crops, including a 1-mile buffer between certified-organic crops and fields where dicamba is sprayed.

Ultimately, after two earlier votes that left the board stuck on high center, the panel voted 11-4 to accept the petition and move it to a 30-day public-comment period and public hearing. The vote mirrors a struggle faced by Plant Board members, farmers and others the past two years: narrow votes, wrangling over parliamentary procedure and, ultimately, sometimes contentious public discussion.

The board's vote follows the announcement last week by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to allow dicamba for in-crop use on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans for another two years, or through the 2020 growing season.

The board, a division of the Arkansas Agriculture Department, received about 1,000 complaints last year of dicamba damage, mainly to soybeans but also to fruits, vegetables, trees, ornamental shrubs and bushes, and to wild vegetation key to pollination.

The 2017 deluge of complaints led to an emergency, 120-day ban that year on the chemical in Arkansas. It also led to the board prohibiting in-crop use of dicamba this year from April 16 through harvest. Still, the board has received 200 complaints this year, leading officials to believe that some farmers violated the ban throughout the summer.

Bruce Alford of Lewisville, who represents the forage industry on the Plant Board, voted to reject the petition on the first vote. Later, with the board at an impasse, Alford said he would help move it forward if the board agreed to work toward assuring that fines for illegal use could be levied.

Arkansas lawmakers in 2017 approved a measure increasing maximum fines for "egregious" violations of pesticide law from $1,000 to $25,000 but added language that makes the stiffer fines impossible for the Plant Board to levy, Alford and Marty Eaton, a board member from Jonesboro, said.

"Can we trace whether dicamba is being used right?" Alford asked. "Can we even use it right?"

Alford said he wanted to help farmers who plant dicamba-tolerant crops but added, "I want to protect the beekeepers" and other farmers, too.

The law for stiffer fines "has no teeth," Eaton said. Farmers illegally sprayed dicamba this year by the "trainload" after the April 16 cutoff date, Eaton said. The law allows the $25,000 fines only for "significant off-target crop damage," not for simply illegally spraying dicamba.

Alford and Thomas Post, of Altus, went from opposing the petition to favoring it. Another member, Dennie Stokes of Earle, abstained from the first vote to approve the petition and voted in favor later.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's most recent appointees to the board -- Sam Stuckey of Clarkedale, in Crittenden County, and John Fricke of Pine Bluff -- supported the June 15 cutoff date. Appointed by Hutchinson in April, the two replaced two consistent critics of dicamba, Danny Finch of Jonesboro and Larry Jayroe of Forrest City.

Weed scientists across Arkansas and other states say their studies have consistently shown that dicamba -- even new formulations by Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), BASF and DowDupont -- is subject to volatilizing off plants hours or even days after application, meaning that it moves as a vapor or gas to susceptible crops and other vegetation.

The manufacturers said applicator error was mostly to blame for damage, and this year it expanded training sessions to thousands of farmers in states where the new dicamba formulations could still be applied.

The Arkansas ban was the only one in the nation, although other states with dicamba complaints set other restrictions based on calendar dates or temperatures. The Plant Board, like its regulatory counterparts in other states, now can accept the new EPA regulations or pass other restrictions.

Fogleman agreed to dropped a section from his petition asking a panel of farmers and Plant Board members and staff to "evaluate and modernize" the board's complaint process after Agriculture Department officials said they were already looking into that matter. Fogleman said Monday that many of the complaints over the last two years were frivolous.

Business on 11/06/2018

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