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EPA probes dicamba use in Missouri

by Stephen Steed | October 21, 2016 at 2:05 a.m.

Agents with the federal Environmental Protection Agency's criminal investigation division recently executed search warrants at "several locations" in the Missouri boot heel, near the Arkansas border, as part of its inquiry into the illegal spraying this summer of the herbicide dicamba, the agency said Thursday.

Chris Whitley, a spokesman for the EPA's Region 7 office in Lenexa, Kan., said he couldn't comment beyond a statement he sent to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He referred questions to a U.S. attorney's office in Missouri, where a spokesman said she couldn't confirm or deny an investigation.

Arkansas is in the EPA's Region 6, based in Dallas. Officials there didn't return telephone calls requesting information as to whether similar warrants have been served in Arkansas. Adriane Barnes, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, said Thursday that no one in her office was aware of any similar EPA raids in the state.

In its statement, the EPA said agents served federal search warrants during the week of Oct. 10 at "several locations in Cape Girardeau, Dunklin, New Madrid and Stoddard counties" of Missouri. The warrants were issued by a U.S. magistrate judge in Cape Girardeau "for the expressed purpose of gathering evidence of possible violations" of federal law governing the use of herbicides and regarding "other federal crimes," according to the statement.

The EPA said the search warrants and supporting affidavits, once served, will be filed at the magistrate judge's office, which also referred a reporter to the U.S. attorney's office.

The EPA's Region 7 statement said the Missouri Department of Agriculture had received more than 100 complaints this summer about the illegal use of dicamba, an herbicide that, because of its high volatility and propensity to drift, cannot be legally sprayed across the tops of crops once the plants emerge.

The Missouri complaints alleged damage to some 41,000 acres of soybeans, cotton, vegetables and fruits, and to ornamental shrubs and trees.

More than 25 similar complaints were lodged with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture's Plant Board, with most coming from Mississippi and Craighead counties in northeast Arkansas. Those complaints are being looked into by plant board investigators.

Many farmers from extreme northeast Arkansas also farm or manage crops in the Missouri boot heel, especially in Dunklin, New Madrid and Stoddard counties, meaning they could be among those whose crops were damaged or among those who illegally sprayed the herbicide.

Arkansas agriculture experts warned of potential problems before planting began this spring.

Many farmers this year planted new cotton and soybean seeds, which are genetically modified to produce plants that are tolerant of dicamba, from Monsanto, the St. Louis-based seed conglomerate. However, the accompanying dicamba-based herbicide for the new seed traits has yet to be approved by the EPA.

But, when faced with an onslaught this summer of pigweed, some farmers who planted the new GMO seeds sprayed dicamba across their fields. The herbicide drifted to neighbors' crops that weren't from the dicamba-tolerant seed, resulting in decreases in yields that haven't yet been tallied.

The state Plant Board has recommended further restrictions on the use of dicamba. Those recommendations are set for public hearing Nov. 21. A civil penalty committee of the board also has recommended increasing the fines for illegal spraying from $1,000 per violation to $25,000. Any increase, if approved, can't be made retroactively.

Business on 10/21/2016

Print Headline: EPA probes dicamba use in Missouri


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