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The state Plant Board on Tuesday nominated Scott Bray, a nearly 26-year veteran of the board, to be its new director and rejected a proposal to allow farmers to resume spraying dicamba.

If confirmed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Bray will succeed V.O. "Butch" Calhoun of Des Arc, 68, who recently announced he'll retire at the close of business June 30.

Bray, 53, first came to the Plant Board as a pest control field inspector. He was director of the board's plant industry division for six years before becoming assistant director of the Plant Board last August.

In deciding to retire, Calhoun cited the toll of a 130-mile daily commute and a desire to spend more time with his family, particularly his grandchildren. A former state representative and the state's second secretary of agriculture, Calhoun was named Plant Board director last July by Hutchinson.

The board made its unanimous recommendation of Bray after a 45-minute session closed to the public, as allowed by the Arkansas Freedom of Information act because it pertained to a specific personnel matter, then announced its decision in a public meeting.

The board stood by its May 26 ban on spraying dicamba, rejecting a formal "request for rule-making" by a Phillips County farmer.

Harry Stephens, in a petition signed by five other farmers, asked the board to declare an emergency for farmers and allow them to spray dicamba through June 30. Some 50 other farmers emailed or called the Plant Board shortly after Stephens presented his petition to the board Monday afternoon.

Stephens said a wet spring delayed planting for many farmers, which then deprived them of the ability to spray dicamba at least once, early in the growing season, before the May 26 ban took effect. The inability to spray dicamba, he said, has brought out an early onslaught of pigweed now resistant to other herbicides.

His petition also would eliminate most of the buffers contained in regulations for spraying dicamba before the May 26 ban took effect, board members critical of Stephens' effort said.

Mark Morgan, a board member and peach grower in Johnson County, said specialty crops wouldn't be protected under Stephens' proposal. Nor would bees and other vegetation, said Russell Black of Fayetteville, who represents the plant nursery industry on the board.

The various buffers were aimed at giving some measure of protection to crops not tolerant of the herbicide while giving farmers a bit longer this year to spray it. The board adopted the May 26 ban after some nine hours of debate at a public hearing and meeting in February that attracted about 250 people. Last year's ban started on April 16.

Wade Hodge, the attorney for the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Plant Board, said passage of an emergency rule would require board members to define and declare an "imminent" threat to public safety and health.

The board voted 13-2 against Stephens' proposal, with only Sam Stuckey of Clarkedale, in Crittenden County, and John Fricke of Pine Bluff in favor. Fricke's proposal for a June 30 extension, with current buffers remaining in place, was rejected a few minutes earlier, 10-5. The board then voted 15-0 to deny Stephens' petition outright.

Hodge also noted that an emergency rule passed by the board also likely wouldn't take effect until June 20 or June 21 because it would have to be cleared by the governor and the executive committee of the Arkansas Legislative Council, which conducts the General Assembly's business when it is not in session, and then filed with the secretary of state's office.

Business on 06/12/2019

Print Headline: Director selected at Plant Board

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