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A legislative subcommittee Tuesday refused to ratify a state Plant Board proposal to restrict farmers' use next year of dicamba, a herbicide linked to crop damage in Arkansas and two dozen other states.

Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, made a motion to kick the measure back to the Plant Board before the Legislative Council's Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee could hear testimony from a handful of farmers or from Plant Board officials.

The Plant Board, a division of the Arkansas Agriculture Department, had voted Nov. 8 to prohibit in-crop spraying of the herbicide from April 16 through Oct. 31 next year. The board received nearly 1,000 complaints this year of dicamba-inflicted damage to soybeans, vegetables, fruits and backyard gardens that aren't tolerant of the chemical.

No member cast an audible "no" vote on Sample's motion, which also asked the Plant Board to consider other possible cutoff dates for different regions of the state and to look at cutoffs involving temperatures. Both are issues studied over the years -- and rejected -- by the board and by weed scientists as either unfair or unworkable.

Sample left the room after his motion passed, and the subcommittee then heard testimony for about an hour.

The subcommittee's vote, however, isn't final. It is subject to review Friday by the Legislative Council, a group of lawmakers that conducts the General Assembly's business when it is not in session.

"This is the most divisive issue I have seen in my 43 years of farming," said David Wildy, Mississippi County farmer and a supporter of the ban. Dicamba's use, he said, has divided friends and splintered ties between the farming community and nonfarmers.

Wildy estimated his crop losses from dicamba at $350,000 this year and said that short of filing a lawsuit against neighboring farmers, he won't be compensated for those losses. One field of soybeans, he said, had a 20-bushel-an-acre drop in yield.

Two farmers acknowledged that their spraying affected his crops, Wildy said. The farmers' insurance companies, he said, refused to pay the claims because they determined that the farmers were not at fault. Instead, Wildy said, the damage rightly was blamed on dicamba's ability to move off target, to susceptible crops, many hours after application.

Regarding the subcommittee's vote and a possible repeat next year of this summer's problems, Wildy said, "It looks like to me it's going to land in y'all's lap."

Monsanto Co. developed dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans as weeds grew resistant to other herbicides. Limiting dicamba to pre-planting would effectively remove the herbicide as a tool during the growing season for farmers. The company sued the Plant Board over the proposed ban.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Scott Partridge, a Monsanto vice president, said, "The Legislative Council [subcommittee] appropriately used its supervisory power to hit the pause button and reject the Plant Board's proposed ban." He said the board needs to make "science-based" decisions for Arkansas farmers.

In an interview Monday, Partridge said that any dicamba prohibitions based on a calendar date or on temperatures were arbitrary.

Perry Galloway of Gregory in Woodruff County told lawmakers that he opposed the April 16 cutoff date and suggested June 1 as a possible compromise. Galloway was among about 300 farmers growing Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant beans who signed a petition earlier this year seeking a May 25 cutoff date.

Terry Walker, the board's director, said lawmakers' rejection of the measure won't necessarily restart a process that began in August with two days of work by a specially appointed dicamba task force.

That group, in a splintered vote, recommended a cutoff date that was endorsed by the Plant Board's pesticide subcommittee and, later, by the full board.

The April 16-Oct. 31 cutoff then was submitted to 30 days of public comment and a public hearing Nov. 8 in Little Rock that attracted several hundred farmers.

If setting a new date isn't a "substantive change" to the current ban, the board likely could avoid the 30-day public-comment period and the public hearing, Walker said.

The board has consistently rejected setting different cutoff dates -- north and south of Interstate 40, for example -- because farmers in south Arkansas would have a longer period of spraying than their counterparts in the north, where herbicide-resistant pigweed is more prevalent.

The board or its pesticide subcommittee have met more than 50 times on dicamba's use in Arkansas the past five years, according to board records.

A Section on 12/13/2017

Print Headline: Dicamba cutbacks sent back to board

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