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The state Plant Board on Thursday recommended a ban on spraying the dicamba herbicide on cropland between April 16 and Oct. 31 and referred the issue to a public hearing on Nov. 8.

The board's unanimous vote came after a nearly seven-hour meeting in which the board also roundly rejected claims made by Monsanto in a 33-page letter Sept. 7 criticizing nearly all aspects of the state's response in the past two growing seasons to complaints that dicamba had harmed thousands of acres of soybeans, other food crops and ornamental trees and shrubs not tolerant of the chemical.

In demanding that the Plant Board allow its new dicamba herbicide into the Arkansas market for in-crop use, Monsanto said a 120-day emergency ban on the sale and use of dicamba implemented in July by the board was "arbitrary and capricious." Nearly 1,000 complaints of dicamba damage have been filed in Arkansas, affecting some 800,000 acres of soybeans alone.

"We've been dealing with this for six years," Larry Jayroe, a Plant Board member from Forrest City, said, noting that the full board or its various committees have met 35 times on dicamba-related matters. "Is that arbitrary and capricious?"

Monsanto also criticized the work of weed scientists with the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture in the letters to the Plant Board and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The UA tests have shown the even the new dicamba herbicides -- by Monsanto, BASF and DuPont -- are susceptible to lifting off crops hours after application and damaging susceptible crops miles away, according to the scientists. The companies, instead, have blamed errors by farmers and applicators, such as disregarding buffers and ignoring wind speeds and directions, for most of the problems reported in Arkansas and other states this year.

Jayroe and other Plant Board members said the work by the Arkansas scientists has been supported by similar tests this summer in several other states, including Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Illinois and Indiana.

Monsanto, which genetically modified soybeans and cotton to be tolerant of dicamba, has said a dicamba ban will leave Arkansas farmers without a weapon in their fight against pigweed and other "super weeds" that, over the years, have grown tolerant to another herbicide, glyphosate. But Monsanto sold the new cotton in 2015 and the new soybeans in 2016 before having any of the new herbicides approved by federal regulators.

The April 16 cutoff date essentially defeats the purpose of the new dicamba herbicides, which were designed to be sprayed over the top of crops through the growing season.

David Wildy of Manila, a Mississippi County farmer and member of a task force that in August recommended the April cutoff date, said farmers who plant Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant seeds will still have options.

"I'll be the first to admit that it's harder, but a good farmer can manage pigweed without dicamba," he told the board. "It's not as easy; it's not as cheap. But right is right, and wrong is wrong." Wildy said the farming community can't afford another year in which backyard vegetable gardens, trees and shrubs are damaged by dicamba.

Before voting in favor of the April 16 cutoff date and referring it to a 30-day public comment period and then to the Nov. 8 public hearing, the board heard from representatives from Monsanto and DuPont, both of whom said the board was on a "rush to judgment" to implement restrictions.

Investigations into some 2,300 complaints of dicamba damage nationwide aren't yet complete, they said. When asked what date they preferred the Plant Board to act, neither could offer one.

Company officials also have said farmers have been using older formulations of dicamba that are illegal for in-crop use. "We were told by farmers that other farmers did that," Thomas Schmidt, a Monsanto representative, said.

"To me, that's an excuse or hearsay," Danny Finch, a farmer and Plant Board member from Jonesboro, said.

Richard Coy, a beekeeper and owner of the 13,000-hive Coy's Honey Farm in Jonesboro, said four generations of his family have been in the bee and honey business. "I'm not the beekeeper who's against all pesticides," he said.

Dicamba, he said, has ravaged vegetation that his bees rely on for pollination.

He has averaged 1.1 million pounds of honey annually the past 10 years. Production this year will be at about 800,000 pounds, a loss of about $500,000.

"I tell you, I can't sustain another year of 50 percent yield loss," he said.

The public hearing on Nov. 8 will begin at 9 a.m. and could go into a second day, depending on turnout and the number of people who want to address the board.

Business on 09/22/2017

Print Headline: Board for dicamba ban, sets hearing

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