Brian Chilson
DRIFT: A Bradford pear tree damaged by dicamba in east Arkansas

Arkansas farmers may use the herbicide dicamba to fight weeds threatening this year’s crops, according to an order issued Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — but the chemicals must already be on their farms or somewhere in the supply chain system.

Manufacturers are not allowed to ship in any more dicamba, leading farmers to worry about next year’s crops. 

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The EPA’s “existing stocks order” comes after a federal court in Arizona last week vacated a set of 2020 registrations for the weedkillers XtendiMax, Engenia and Tavium, effectively banning the over-the-top use of several popular dicamba-based products by U.S. farmers. 

Dicamba use has been a hot topic in Arkansas for years, with the main issue being the herbicide’s volatility. It can lift off plants as a vapor for hours or days after application and can spread miles away, damaging other vulnerable crops and vegetation. The fight over dicamba has pitted farmer against farmer and drawn in the Arkansas Plant Board, the state Legislature and the state Supreme Court.

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Arkansas Soybean Association President Derke Helms on Thursday told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Cristina LaRuewho has reported extensively on the issue — that between 75% and 80% of the 3 million acres of soybeans planted in Arkansas each year utilize dicamba to some extent. 

About 95% to 98% of cotton and soybeans in Arkansas use one of two herbicides to control weed – 2,4-D and dicamba, Agricultural Council of Arkansas President Nathan Reed told LaRue. 

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The state’s deadline for use of Xtendimax, Engenia or Tavium on dicamba-tolerant soybeans is June 30. The deadline to use the products on dicamba-tolerant cotton is July 30, according to the EPA order.

Beyond the short-term order, it’s unclear how the EPA will handle the dicamba issue moving forward, given various lawsuits now in play over the use of the chemical. 

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In the Arizona decision last week, the court said the EPA failed to comply with public notice-and-comment requirements when approving a “new use” of dicamba. The agency has 60 days to file an appeal of the ruling.