Arkansas Plant Board backs dicamba ban for '18

Vote is 10-3 after 250 farmers, others hear testimony in Little Rock

Posted: November 9, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Farmer Matt Smith of Mississippi County speaks Wednesday before the state Plant Board in Little Rock during a public hearing on the use of dicamba.

Farmers will be prohibited from spraying dicamba across the top of crops during next year's growing season, the state Plant Board decided Wednesday.

The 10-3 vote came after a public hearing that lasted more than four hours and attracted about 250 farmers and other observers to a Little Rock hotel's ballroom set up to seat 500.

Three armed officers from the Arkansas Forestry Commission stood watch, without incident, as farmers and the Plant Board debated an issue that has divided the farming community for more than a year. Both the Forestry Commission and Plant Board are part of the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

The board voted to prohibit the spraying of the herbicide from April 16 through Oct. 31, with exceptions for pastures and rangeland, as long as crops susceptible to dicamba are at least 1 mile away in all directions. The ban also doesn't affect dicamba's use around the home. The dicamba prohibition needed nine votes from the board's 16 voting members for passage.

The board's decision still must be ratified by the governor and the Arkansas Legislative Council. Both signed off on two other dicamba-related measures taken by the board in the past 12 months -- a decision last November to limit dicamba spraying this year, and a 120-day emergency ban that took effect July 11 after a flood of complaints about crop damage possibly caused by the herbicide.

While the board was prepared to continue the hearing into today, only 38 attendees chose to testify Wednesday, with each given five minutes to speak without interruption and each one alternating between those in favor of the April-October cutoff and those against.

The testimony echoed a refrain heard in previous meetings of the Plant Board and its pesticide/herbicide committee:

Farmers who planted Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant soybeans said they needed the herbicide to combat pigweed, which has grown resistant to other herbicides.

"Growers need the technology," Scott Partridge, a Monsanto vice president, said. Partridge said additional training would take care of problems arising in Arkansas and 23 other states where farmers have reported dicamba damage.

Farmers who said they should be free to plant whatever they would like without fear of being harmed by a neighbor.

"If I get hit by dicamba, I'm not worried about a yield reduction, I'm going to lose the entire product," said Shawn Peebles, an organic farmer of soybeans and sweet potatoes. Off-target movement of dicamba got within 30 feet of his fields. Had he gotten hit, he said, he would have lost his organic certification for three years. "I'd be broke, bankrupt," he said.

Other farmers sought a May 25 cutoff, giving them at least one chance to spray dicamba on their soybeans between planting and before the Arkansas summer grew hot and humid, two factors in how dicamba can lift off plants as a vapor after spraying and move off target.

"If you take [new] dicamba from us, the spraying of illegal dicamba is going to happen," Barrett Brothers, a Mississippi County farmer, said, referring to new formulations of dicamba by Monsanto and BASF and older formulations long prohibited for in-crop use. "The honest guys will do it right. We can make it work if you give us the opportunity."

Only BASF's new dicamba herbicide, called Engenia, is licensed in Arkansas. Monsanto has sued the Plant Board for refusing to allow its new dicamba, Xtendimax with VaporGrip, into the state.

But there is no cure for dicamba's volatility, or tendency to move off target, even for the new formulations, Rich Zollinger, a North Dakota weed scientist, testified Wednesday.

Monsanto and BASF disagree that volatility was a major cause of the problems in Arkansas and other states this summer.

"As we've all heard, low volatility doesn't mean zero volatility," Zollinger said, referring to test results by weed scientists across the South and Midwest. He said regulators in every soybean-producing state were waiting on the Plant Board's decision.

Business on 11/09/2017