The Arkansas Plant Board, after hearing from 31 speakers this morning at a special meeting at the Embassy Suites hotel, made some soybean and cotton farmers happy by declining to put in place proposed new regulations to track the use of the herbicide dicamba. The rules would have required farmers to create maps of areas to be sprayed using GPS coordinates for the state Department of Agriculture, register the applications of the herbicide with the department, record the number of prior applications to the field and other things.
The board also disappointed members of the public who sought to restrict use of dicamba to a period before April 15, when the chemical would be less volatile and likely to spread to nondicamba resistant crops: Wade Hodge, the lawyer for the board, informed the board before its vote on proposed amendments to its pesticide regulations (which apply to dicamba) that it could not address any changes in application dates because such a change was not part of the stated reason for the meeting and consideration of a date change would require a new regulatory hearing. The application cutoff will remain May 25 in 2020.
Board member Terry Fuller disagreed, citing an attorney general’s finding if matters arose that were a “logical” extension of the matter, no new call for public comment was necessary. Hodge countered that dates were not a logical extension.
Farmers speaking against the amended regulations, proposed earlier this year, said the regulations would be expensive and hard to follow, especially by farmers who because of age were unfamiliar with GPS technology. One farmer accused the board of a “hyper regulatory impulse,” and another, noting he was quoting from the U.S. House impeachment hearings, said the regulations were “baloney.” (Republican lawyer Stephen Castor called impeachment of President Trump “baloney.”)
Dicamba’s use has been a matter of controversy since 2016, when a farmer was shot in a confrontation with another farmer over dicamba’s destruction of his soybean crop.
Helena-West Helena farmer Harry Stephens, in a booming voice so loud no microphone was necessary, said the efforts to contain the spraying of dicamba were “getting us all crossways.” He then did his part to sow discord by accusing Audubon Arkansas and others concerned about the deleterious effect of the chemical on other farmers and nature of being “tree huggers” who “want to hurt family farmers.” Stephens ridiculed the new rules as “overregulating to protect grandma’s rosebush.”
Yet another farmer, noting dicamba’s importance at killing pigweed, complained about efforts by Audubon and others to track dicamba damage, calling them “teetotaling progressive bullying crusaders.” They, and representatives from chemical companies, including Bayer Monsanto, said claims of dicamba’s damage were unfounded and noted a decrease in complaints to the board from other farmers. However, persons opposed to the chemical said complaints were down from farmers because more are using dicamba, which they see as a threat to small farmers and gardeners as well as native plants, insects and the animal populations they support, such as birds and butterflies.
Though it may not have been part of the call for public comments, the proposal to restrict dicamba use to April 15 was addressed by all. Farmers said they needed the longer application period to be able to farm affordably; opponents to the chemical said it is impossible to contain the chemical drift that occurs when dicamba is applied in high temperatures. Daniel Scheiman, bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas, urged the board to “follow the science,” as stickers worn by Audubon supporters said. He was referring in part to a report made by UA weed scientist Jason Norsworthy to the board last week. Norsworthy said he had to shut down test plots at the UA research center in Mississippi County — one of the largest producers of soybeans in the nation — because they were hit by dicamba. He said his experiments supported claims of dicamba’s volatility, that industry refutes. Scheiman compared dicamba products labeled “low-volatility” to “low-tar” cigarettes and “clean coal.”
“Lastly, but significantly, Kansas State University has discovered dicamba-resistant pigweed,” Scheiman told the board. “Dicamba is a doomed technology. Don’t wait until herbicide resistance spreads across the country. Stop this now before any more collateral damage occurs to our agriculture and our environment.”
Danny Townsend, who described himself as a landscaper, acknowledged “dicamba fatigue” that has developed in the three-year debate over the chemical, but said the chemical “never should have been issued.”