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story.lead_photo.caption Farmers gather Tuesday in the Old Supreme Court room at the state Capitol before a news conference about proposed rules for the use of the herbicide dicamba. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The state Plant Board's cutoff date on spraying dicamba on crops this year moved closer Tuesday to taking effect after a legislative subcommittee could find no legal way to stop it.

The proposal bans the in-crop use of the herbicide from April 16-Oct. 31, effectively removing new formulations of the herbicide as a defense against pigweed during the height of the growing season for soybeans, cotton and many other crops. The board recommended the cutoff date after receiving nearly 1,000 complaints of damage to other crops not tolerant of the herbicide.

The Rules and Regulations Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council, which conducts the General Assembly's business when it is not in session, heard nearly three hours of testimony from farmers who drove through ice and snow for the meeting and from Plant Board officials who defended their decision.

For most of the time, the subcommittee lacked a quorum to take a vote, though eventually it wrangled one, and the body decided it had no legal authority to stop the cutoff date. The Plant Board's vote now goes for review on Friday by the Legislative Council.

By law, the legislative panels can only "review" proposed rules changes by executive branch agencies and can stop them only if they violate "legislative intent" or state or federal law.

Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Warren, tried to derail the cutoff date, saying it went against a law passed last year setting fines of up to $25,000 for the misuse of chemicals. Wardlaw said legislators, in allowing higher fines for the most egregious violations, meant for dicamba to be used.

Too few lawmakers felt that was reason enough to stop the proposal, sending it on to the full council.

The rules and regulations panel first took up the Plant Board's proposal in December but sent it back to the board to consider revisions. The board on Jan. 3 decided to keep its proposal unchanged. Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, made the motion to kick the ban back to the board; he said Tuesday that he was satisfied with the board's effort to reconsider the cutoff date.

David Wildy, a Mississippi County farmer, told lawmakers he sustained some $600,000 in losses last year from dicamba damage to his soybeans. Overall soybean production in the state set records, but that doesn't mean farmers like him didn't suffer loss, he said.

Wildy said 100 percent of his 3,433 acres of soybeans showed damage and his per-acre yields ranged from 21 bushels to nearly 68 bushels. His five-year average across the same fields was 62 bushels an acre, he said.

"No one is willing to accept the liability of those losses -- not the farmer [causing the damage], not the insurance company and certainly not the manufacturers [of dicamba]," Wildy said.

About a dozen farmers from east and southeast Arkansas gathered earlier Tuesday in the Old Supreme Court room of the otherwise shutdown Capitol building to call on the Plant Board to revise the cutoff date to allow at least one spraying. They also said they and other farmers who were against the ban never got a fair hearing before the board.

Without dicamba, farmers will have to turn to field hands to chop out weeds, Michael McCarty, a farmer from east Arkansas, said. That will cost $75 an acre, compared with about $9 an acre for the herbicide, said.

A group of farmers, including McCarty, and Monsanto have separate lawsuits in Pulaski County Circuit Court against the Plant Board over the cutoff date. A hearing on Monsanto's lawsuit is set for Monday.

Monsanto developed dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton -- along with new formulations of the herbicide -- to fight pigweed, which has grown resistant to other herbicides.

While it's an effective weedkiller, dicamba also is subject to physical drift and to "volatilizing" off plants hours after application and moving onto vegetation that is not dicamba tolerant.

Farmers in about two dozen states filed some 2,400 complaints last year, with Arkansas' 997 leading the way by far.

While most states have continued to allow the use of the herbicide under the label instructions approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, other states have set cutoff dates based on temperature or the calendar. Arkansas, though, is the only one effectively banning the herbicide throughout the growing season.

Business on 01/17/2018

Print Headline: Panel stymied on dicamba cutoff

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