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The state Plant Board on Thursday rejected -- for now -- a request by a group of farmers to set a more lenient May 25 cutoff date for spraying a controversial herbicide next year.

The rejection came about largely because approval could have jeopardized an ongoing legal process the Plant Board is following as it considers how, and even whether, dicamba can be used in Arkansas.

Weeks ago, the board recommended an April 16 cutoff date for in-crop use next year of dicamba on soybeans that have been genetically modified to be tolerant of the chemical.

A spraying ban from April 16 through Oct. 31 would effectively remove dicamba as a tool during the growing season for farmers against weeds that have grown resistant to other herbicides.

As required by state law governing the operations of boards and commission, the board then opened the matter to a 30-day public comment period that expires Oct. 30 and set a public hearing for Nov. 8.

The board on Sept. 21 set the April 16 cutoff date after a summer in which state regulators received nearly 1,000 complaints of dicamba damage. While most complaints centered on soybeans, others were of damage to fruit and vegetable crops raised by farmers, home gardens and ornamental shrubs and bushes in people's backyards.

The board on Thursday appeared to be close to voting on -- and approving -- four requests raised by Grant Ballard, a Little Rock agricultural-law attorney representing seven farmers.

"I like what they've said," said Jerry Hyde of Paragould, who represents the pest-management industry on the board. "I think they've presented a good case."

In a legal maneuver filed Sept. 29 that required the Plant Board to reconsider, Ballard asked the board instead to:

Set a May 25 cut-off date, which would have allowed farmers with dicamba-tolerant soybeans to get at least one round of spraying in after plants had emerged.

Require a 1-mile buffer between fields sprayed with dicamba and any crops susceptible to dicamba.

Create a special permit for in-crop use of dicamba, after May 25, in "circumstances of severe pigweed infestation."

Require farmers and applicators who spray dicamba to have at least $500,000 in liability insurance.

Hyde withdrew a motion to approve the four points after other board members questioned if such a vote was a "substantive change" to the legal process now leading to the Nov. 8 public hearing.

Wade Hodge, the attorney for the Arkansas Agriculture Department, said lawyers can sue over anything but believed the four points still fit within the board's general guise of whether to further restrict the use of dicamba.

But only the board could make that distinction, Hodge said.

When asked by a board member what he thought, Cal McCastlain, a Little Rock lawyer with the Dover Dixon Horne firm, said, "It's all opinion. I think if you adopt the petition, you'll create a lot of confusion and open doors [to lawsuits]."

The board, he said, should be asking itself, "What can we do to minimize confusion in the process?"

The board voted unanimously to reject the four points raised by Ballard's farmers with the caveat that each one will be taken up at the Nov. 8 hearing.

Aside from the legal complexities, board members cited problems with the suggested May 25 cutoff date.

Farmers south of Interstate 40 tend to plant beans earlier than farmers to the north. A May 25 cutoff date gives an advantage to farmers in the south, Dennie Stokes, of Earle, said.

Larry Jayroe, a Plant Board member from Forrest City, said the group raised some good points but none of the four addressed the herbicide's apparent tendency to move off target.

Ballard said later that he was "disappointed but encouraged" by the vote and assurance, through a motion by Jayroe, that his group's suggestions will be considered again next month.

Business on 10/20/2017

Print Headline: Plant Board rejects request to push back dicamba cutoff date

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