Public Hearing Heartburn

Arkansas Contemplates Further Dicamba Regulations

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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The Arkansas State Plant Board will contemplate serious restrictions on dicamba Wednesday at a hearing that is expected to draw many voices. The Pesticide Committee of the Plant Board is shown meeting in September. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (DTN) -- Eyes are on the Arkansas State Plant Board (ASPB) on Nov. 8 as they publically deliberate a measure that would severely limit the use of dicamba herbicides in row-crop production in 2018. The public hearing was moved to a hotel venue in anticipation of the need to facilitate the crowd expected to testify on the proposal to establish an April 15 cutoff date for the controversial herbicide.

During October, public comments flooded into the state agency on both sides of the dicamba issue. A group of about 300 farmers signed a petition to oppose the ban, but they offered an alternate May 25 cutoff date and other application concessions. Other farmers support the proposed Arkansas ban on dicamba from April 16 to Oct. 31, citing losses in non-tolerant crops from off-target movement of the spray.

Add recent moves by Monsanto to the dicamba drama. Last week the St. Louis-based company asked that a member of the state Plant Board be disqualified from participating in the Nov. 8 public hearing. In a letter to ASPB, the company alleged Terry Fuller, who represents the Arkansas Seed Growers Association on the board, solicited public support for the cutoff date and thereby showed bias.

In September, Monsanto filed a petition criticizing several weed scientists, the ASPB and a special Arkansas governor-appointed dicamba task force. The company also leveled demands with regard to use of dicamba in the state. The Plant Board subsequently rejected those demands at a Sept. 21 public hearing. In October, Monsanto sued the ASPB, alleging it had violated state law regarding dicamba decisions.

Monsanto is the developer of the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Crop System, which allows cotton and soybeans to tolerate dicamba applications. The technology has been licensed to other seed companies. Monsanto, BASF and DowDuPont sell dicamba herbicides specifically designed to be used with the Xtend cropping systems.

While the actions being considered are specific to the state of Arkansas, many other states are watching. The U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) Agency recently made label changes to dicamba products for 2018 as a result of the number of injury complaints filed in 2017. Last week EPA officials said there were 2,708 injury cases across the United States covering 3.6 million acres. However, the agency also admitted that may underestimate the problem.

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The state of Arkansas had 985 dicamba-related damage complaints, which prompted an emergency ban on dicamba spraying in mid-July and the establishment of the special task force to come up with suggestions for the coming season.

Only BASF's dicamba herbicide, Engenia, was labeled for in-crop use in Arkansas this year. The ASPB refused to allow the use of Monsanto's XtendiMax herbicide because Monsanto did not allow the weed scientists to do volatility tests on the product.

Monsanto's dicamba-tolerant soybeans were planted on about half of the Arkansas' 3 million soybean acres. Monsanto has said it expects Xtend soybeans to be planted on at least 55 million acres of soybeans next year.

The April 15 cutoff date is being contemplated by the state in an effort to address worries about volatility. Studies by weed scientists at several universities have indicated the new dicamba formulations can still volatilize or move following application as a gas. Monsanto and BASF have consistently said their new, low-volatility formulations are not to blame for the symptoms seen in sensitive plants this year. Instead, they put the blame on applicators, tank contamination and lack of education.

NEXT MOVES

The proposal before the ASPB applies to herbicides for agricultural use that contain dicamba. The regulations include exemptions for the use of dicamba in pastures, rangeland, turf, ornamental, direct injection for forestry and home use. The approved regulations are closely aligned with the recommendations from the Dicamba Task Force and the Plant Board's Pesticide Committee.

The final proposed rule to come from the Nov. 8 hearing will be forwarded to the Executive Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council for final rule approval.

The ASPB also held an earlier public hearing to consider changes that increased the maximum civil penalty from $1,000 to $25,000 for egregious violations from applications of dicamba or an Auxin containing herbicide, or any new herbicide technology released after Aug. 1, 2017. No public comments were received and the regulation has been sent to the Executive Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council for final rule approval.

The proposed regulations and other dicamba information and updates can be found at: http://www.aad.arkansas.gov/…

DTN is attending the November meeting. Follow our tweets for updated information.

Pamela Smith can be followed at Pamela.Smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(ES/AG)

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Pam Smith