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New bills increasing the penalty for the egregious use of herbicides in Arkansas were filed in both the House and Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 501 would allow the state's Plant Board to levy fines of more than $1,000 but not more than $25,000 for violations for the use of the herbicide dicamba or its related products that the board determines were egregious.

To be egregious, the violation must result in significant off-target crop damage because of the application of the products. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, and David Wallace, R-Leachville.

The current maximum fine for illegal application of a pesticide or herbicide in Arkansas is $1,000 per incident, which several Plant Board members and some farmers have said is too low to be a deterrent.

Last summer, some farmers illegally sprayed older versions of the herbicide dicamba on crops, harming thousands of acres of cotton, soybeans, fruits and vegetables in Arkansas and neighboring states. On Oct. 27, 2016, a dispute over spraying with dicamba resulted in the fatal shooting of an Arkansas farmer.

Wallace said Tuesday that dicamba was a particularly volatile herbicide and the Plant Board needed a heftier monetary deterrent when dealing with its misuse. Wallace, a farmer, said his bill targeted dicamba specifically because he, and fellow farmers in his region, saw it as a distinct danger. He said heftier fines for the use of other herbicides were not needed.

House Bill 1692 contains similar wording regarding fines but does not specifically mention the herbicide dicamba nor its related products.

Rep. David Hillman, R-Almyra, sponsor of HB1692, said the bill didn't specifically address dicamba so it could apply to the misuse of any herbicide, now or in the future. He said the Plant Board hadn't had the amount of its fines raised since 1947, adding the board needed teeth to enforce its rules.

Both bills also contain a similar formula on how civil fines assessed by the Plant Board would be distributed. On fines of $1,000 or less, the funds go to Plant Board scholarship programs.

On larger fines, the first $1,000 goes to the Plant Board scholarships, with 60 percent of the remaining funds going to Plant Board scholarships; 20 percent to the Department of Agriculture for education and training of employees of the Division of Agriculture of the University of Arkansas and agencies administered by the division; and 20 percent to the University of Arkansas Fund, to be used by the University of Arkansas Extension Service.

Business on 03/01/2017

Print Headline: Herbicide bills filed in Legislature

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