LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (DTN) -- Many eyes were on the Arkansas state pesticide board Nov. 21 as officials that oversee pesticide regulations wrestled with decisions on dicamba herbicide. At the end of a packed, three-hour public meeting, the Arkansas Plant Board voted to push measures toward that state's governor that would ban some forms of the herbicide and limit how and when newer dicamba formulations are used in the state.
The situation has been brewing for months after cotton and soybean seeds engineered to tolerate dicamba were released in 2015 and 2016 without the special herbicides designed for those seeds. Some farmers who planted the Xtend-brand seeds later reached for existing dicamba herbicides, despite warnings from companies and state officials that those applications would be illegal.
This week's hearing was called to address proposals the board sent to public comment on Sept. 30, but it was highlighted by disputes and tensions that erupted between neighboring farmers within that time period. Mike Wallace, 55, of Monette, Arkansas, was shot and killed Oct. 27, allegedly during an argument over illegal spraying of dicamba. Allan Curtis Jones, 26, of Arbyrd, Missouri, was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder.
With that as a backdrop, some 160 people crammed into the Arkansas State Plant Board meeting room and two overflow rooms. Approximately 20 people testified, including three members of the Wallace family. Bradley Wallace said his father had made numerous calls to the Plant Board during the 2015 and 2016 growing season "hoping to find a helping hand willing to assist in bringing the illegal spraying to an end."
"We've seen exactly what the old formulations are capable of, and there's not enough research to prove the new formulations will not do the same," the younger Wallace stated.
Reed Storey, a Marvell, Arkansas, farmer, testified that he and his father had approximately 600 acres of soybeans that they could visually identify as damaged by dicamba gone astray. "We saw a 5 to 15 bushels of soybeans per acre yield loss," he said, estimating a $70,000 loss of income. He added that this major loss hit at a time when crop prices are at multi-year lows.
Tim Roberts, Ozark Mountain Poultry, based in Rogers, Arkansas, said his company is already receiving significant pushback from growers who have traditionally supplied them non-GMO soybeans for a premium. "Producers fear neighbors will use off-label products and they need to plant Xtend soybeans as a defensive move," he stated. Several others testified on behalf of the natto soybean industry, a non-GMO specialty market that has a significant footprint in Arkansas. Vegetable growers also called for an earlier spray cutoff date to protect their earlier plantings.
The Plant Board received 245 written comments during the public comment period with 192 writers expressing support for the restrictions proposed by the board on Sept. 30. There were 33 requests for a ban of all dicamba products -- just five wrote in opposition to the restrictions as proposed.
Dicamba drift and the resulting crop damage has left regulators in Arkansas and several other states scrambling to address formal complaints and looking for ways to head off repeat problems in 2017. Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta and many licensees plan extensive Xtend seed sales in the coming year.
On Nov. 9, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a federal label for a newly formulated dicamba product: XtendiMax, a diglycolamine salt-based (DGA) dicamba herbicide that contains an additive called VaporGrip said by Monsanto to reduce the volatility of the dicamba. However, DGA dicamba is the same salt used in Clarity herbicide and farmers and extension educators testifying in the hearing stressed that less volatile formulations do not prevent physical drift onto sensitive crops.
Arkansas State Plant Board Chairman Otis Howe said in opening statements during the hearing that the committee requires manufacturers to provide third-party drift and volatility studies for pesticides to be registered in the state. Each year the Pesticide Division registers approximately 11,000 pesticides for use in Arkansas.
He also noted the committee has a nearly five-year history of dialogue with the manufacturers of Monsanto's Xtend dicamba trait technology and the Dow AgroSciences trait 2,4-D technology known as Enlist. "The audience today may notice that some of the proposed restrictions are more stringent than others," Howe said. "This is due to the fact that the request for additional drift and volatility studies by a third party were not met by all manufacturers."
University of Arkansas weed scientist Jason Norsworthy said most farmers do not realize the EPA is interested in protecting endangered species in their actions. "A farmer is interested in symptoms and yield loss, nor do they want to see dicamba show up in the next generation if they are growing seed beans. That's the job of the State Plant Board to protect these farmers, and I don't think most people realize that this differs from the intent of EPA," he said.
The board voted 12-0 in favor of the proposals, with two members abstaining because of conflicts of interest and one member absent. The drafted proposals include:
-- Ban dicamba herbicides of dimethylamine (DMA) salt and acid formulations (i.e. Banvel), except on pastures, but only if all susceptible crops are at least 1 mile away in all directions.
-- Prohibit spraying of all dicamba composed of diglycolamine (DGA) salt and sodium salt from April 15 through Sept. 15, except on pastures or rangeland, again with a 1-mile buffer. This would include the new XtendiMax formulation from Monsanto and a similar DGA-based formula DuPont is licensing from Monsanto.
-- Require farmers who use a BASF's Engenia herbicide, a BAMPA salt of dicamba (N,N-Bis-(3-aminopropyl)methylamine), on Xtend cotton and soybeans to have a quarter-mile downwind buffer zone and 100-foot buffer in all other directions.
-- Require anyone who uses applied products on Xtend or Enlist seed technologies to complete New Technology Certification training.
Ty Witten, Monsanto cotton, soybeans, specialty crop and seed treatment systems lead, testified at the hearing and told DTN following the session that he was disappointed by the vote, especially since there has been progress made on the federal level to gain a herbicide labeled for the technology. He said that Monsanto tests indicate the addition of VaporGrip lowers volatility by 90% over traditional DGA-formulations.
The proposals now go to the Arkansas governor for consideration and will eventually be brought before a legislative committee for a final decision, said Terry Walker, director of the Arkansas State Plant Board. There was widespread support during Monday's hearing to increase the fine for illegal spraying from the current $1,000 per violation to $25,000 per violation. However, Walker said that would require new legislation to be carried out.
Editor's note: As this story was written, DTN is hearing other states are looking at similar regulations and increases in fines for wrong doing. We will continue to follow those stories as they become public.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.email@example.com
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