Arkansas soybean and cotton farmers will have until May 25 to use controversial weed-killer Dicamba on their crops after the state Plant Board made changes to regulations at a 10-hour meeting Wednesday, Feb. 20.
The chemical is sprayed over crops grown from Dicamba-resistant seeds, but scientists from the University of Arkansas and elsewhere have tracked problems with the product drifting and damaging nearby crops or plants.
Wednesday’s meeting wrapped up a public comment period and featured dozens of speakers after the board proposed a May 20th cutoff late last year. The board had effectively banned its use in 2018 after significant numbers of complaints the previous growing season.
“It seems that the volatility remains the core issue of this product,” said Danny Townsend, who signed up to speak against the proposal despite sitting on the board of the Arkansas Grain Industry Association. “I believe this is the reason we have an unprecedented number of complaints related to Dicamba.”
State scientists like Dr. Jason Norsworthy have tried to track that volatility, coming to a consensus that the hotter it gets, the more likely Dicamba is to get in the air and go off its target. Some proponents of Dicamba use questioned those findings, which led the UA expert to fire back.
“Most of us in this room would agree that hundreds of thousands of acres were damaged in 2017-18,” Norsworthy said. “A feat that has never been witnessed in this state with any single herbicide.”
“We got more stuff more resistant to more stuff every day,” said Harry Stephens, a farmer from Helena West Helena who began his comments about how farmers once shunned the tractor as being unnecessary technology. “It's just terrible what's going on out there and we’ve got to have Dicamba.”
But organic farmers, who stand to lose their business if the chemical drifts on to their certified crops challenged their soybean and cotton brethren.
“Don't tell me that you've got to have Dicamba to farm,” said Shawn Peebles, an organic farmer from Clay County. “That is not a true statement. You have lots of options out there. There are lots of options besides these.”
Several environmentalists opposed to chemicals in general spoke, including the head of the local Audobon Society and the Sierra Club.
After seven hours of comments, the actual meeting began. Member Marty Eaton proposed a May 31 cutoff and smaller buffer zones. Over an hour of back-and-forth saw proposals to alter the dates fall short of the nine votes needed to pass until members settled on the May 25th date and a mix of buffer zones.
“I think we came to a compromise and included everybody’s opinions,” said Eaton, who represents the Arkansas Seed Growers. “We might get one good spraying out of the Dicamba and hopefully get some good out of the technology.”
The new rules now head to Governor Asa Hutchinson for his final approval