Arkansas Plant Board panel backs dicamba use

Limited spraying next year supported

FILE - East Arkansas farmer Reed Storey shows the damage from dicamba to one of his soybean plants in Marvell, Ark., in July 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo File)
FILE - East Arkansas farmer Reed Storey shows the damage from dicamba to one of his soybean plants in Marvell, Ark., in July 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo File)

A committee of the state Plant Board on Monday moved forward with allowing in-crop use of dicamba next year, as requested by a group of farmers, but also set other restrictions not in the farmers' formal petition.

The board's pesticide committee, after a five-hour discussion, voted 4-0 to allow dicamba's use in 2019 through June 15. It also voted to extend buffer zones, however, for crops and other vegetation sensitive to the herbicide.

The committee's recommendation now goes back to the full board, which next meets Dec. 6. The full board had voted 11-4 on Nov. 5 to accept the June 15 cutoff date and to have its pesticide committee refine the proposal filed by Crittenden County farmer Franklin Fogleman and 27 other farmers.

The pesticide committee accepted a June 15 cutoff date with two stipulations:

• For spraying between May 20 and June 15, applicators must have a one-fourth-mile buffer, in all directions, to all other soybeans and cotton not dicamba tolerant and to "sensitive areas and crops," such as watermelons, peaches, peanuts and sweet potatoes susceptible to the herbicide.

• For spraying between April 16 and June 15, applicators must have a 1-mile buffer, in all directions, from where they spray dicamba and where there are research stations operated by universities or by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, crops certified as organic by the USDA, and specialty crops on farms meeting USDA thresholds of having more than 1,000 plants or three-year average sales of $25,000.

Fogleman's petition had set only a one-fourth-mile downwind buffer and, for a special-needs permit to spray after June 15, a 1-mile buffer to crops not tolerant of the herbicide.

Unlike the full board in its Nov. 5 meeting on Fogleman's petition, the pesticide committee heard an hour's worth of testimony from farmers on both sides of the issue and from representatives of companies that manufacture or market dicamba. It also heard a 30-minute presentation reviewing the past couple of years of dicamba research by weed scientists with the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture.

The meeting on Monday mirrored efforts in Arkansas over the past three years on how, or whether, to allow the use of a chemical that, while effective against pigweed now resistant to other herbicides, also poses a threat to other crops, wild vegetation, backyard gardens and ornamental shrubs and trees.

The issue has divided Arkansas farmers. On Monday, it had soybean farmers who want dicamba weighing their crop's monetary value against the value of other farm products.

Compared to other states, Arkansas produces a lot fewer specialty crops, whether fruit or vegetables, said Perry Galloway, a Woodruff County farmer. "That blows away the theory that we're a vast and diversified state," Galloway said, adding that he has seen no reports of dicamba damage to fields of sweet potatoes or organic crops.

In a later presentation, Rick Cartwright, director of the UA's Cooperative Extension Service and former non-voting member of the Plant Board, referred to that division among farmers and said the Plant Board hasn't likely heard the full outcry from non-farmers who've seen damage to gardens and trees.

As for special crops and their value, Cartwright said, "We are a diverse state, though the acreage may be smaller than in other states."

If dicamba's future is based on scale and size, he said, "I guess, then, the horticulture folks are out of luck."

Dicamba's use in Arkansas this year was prohibited by the Plant Board after April 16, effectively eliminating the herbicide's use once soybean and cotton plants had emerged from the soil. Still, some farmers apparently violated the ban, resulting in the filing of 200 complaints of dicamba damage.

Marty Eaton, a pesticide committee member from Jonesboro, said that date amounted to a "shutdown" on dicamba but "people sprayed it and it didn't matter" what the date was. Eaton, as he has in the past, called for a way to levy stiffer fines for violations of pesticide regulations. Legislators' rewrite of the fines in 2017 -- to increase the maximum penalties from $1,000 per violation to $25,000 -- has made them impossible to enforce, some Plant Board members have complained.

Another formal "request for rule-making" is pending before the board. It was filed by other farmers seeking the opposite of Fogleman's issue. That proposal, by law, must be considered by the Plant Board within 30 days.

Filed on Nov. 19 by Shawn Peebles, a Woodruff County farmer who grows organic sweet potatoes and soybeans, that petition seeks a "total and complete ban on the sale and application" of all dicamba formulations. The board hasn't set a date on hearing that petition.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, on Oct. 31, announced it will allow dicamba formulations by Bayer, BASF and DowDupont to be used in-crop through the 2020 growing season. Still, states can make changes to chemical labels approved by the EPA through a "local needs" procedure that Arkansas has been following.

The EPA also said it will require all applicators to be certified to spray the herbicide, not just someone operating under the supervision of a certified applicator.

The pesticide committee on Monday also voted to allow Bayer, BASF and DowDupont hold in-person training programs for those applicators, similar to programs they offered this year in other states where dicamba could still be sprayed over the top of soybeans and cotton.

A special-needs permit also could be issued for spraying dicamba after June 15 on certain farmland along Mississippi River levees, the committee said.

Whatever the Plant Board decides, the issue will move to a 30-day public comment period and public hearing -- as required by the Arkansas Administrative Procedure Act governing state boards and commissions.

Business on 11/27/2018

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