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Arkansas legislative committees to determine dicamba, fine increases for illegal use in 2018

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The last step in banning dicamba during the bulk of the 2018 growing season and a significant increase to the fines for farmers who use it illegally will be decided by Arkansas legislative committees during the next week.

The Arkansas House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development committees will decide Tuesday (Dec. 5) if penalties for egregious violations of the use of dicamba or an Auxin containing herbicide, or any new herbicide technology released after August 1, 2017, will increase from $1,000 per violation to $25,000 per violation, Arkansas Agriculture Department Director of Communications Adriane Barnes told Talk Business & Politics.

The Arkansas Legislative Council Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee will perform a final review of the regulatory changes for the application of products labeled for agricultural use that contain dicamba in Arkansas on Dec. 12.

The Arkansas State Plant Board voted Nov. 8th to ban dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31. The regulations include exemptions for the use of dicamba in pastures, rangeland, turf, ornamental, direct injection for forestry, and home use. At least 29,000 written comments were received during that hearing, and 37 people testified. ASPB will host a public hearing and board meeting the same day to consider changes to the Arkansas Pesticide Control Act regulations that would clarify the ASPB ability to request additional information about a pesticide before it is registered for use in Arkansas.

ASPB made the decision to ban dicamba after it received about 1,000 damage complaints, primarily in Northeast Arkansas, starting in May potentially caused from dicamba drift. The decision was highly controversial, but the board decided the risks were too significant, Barnes said. Dicamba is an effective weed control herbicide, but the damage it can cause to other crops and farmers has to be considered. The higher fines are meant to serve as a significant deterrent to potential violators, she said. ASPB investigates and reviews complaints.

“We understand that people have had success using this product … It’s (the higher fines) a way to make sure that people abusing this product are punished. You’ve got to follow the rules,” she said.

Dr. Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System, said the decision was based on the best evidence available when it was made by ASPB in November.

“The plant board and the dicamba task force that preceded it made a decision based on the best evidence from land grant research conducted not only by the scientists of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, but also by their peers in Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana, and other states, and from additional information made available from all other sources. We are proud of the work that our weed scientists and agronomists have done in service to the people of Arkansas and beyond,” Cochran noted in a statement. “Our weed scientists and agronomists will continue to work diligently toward tools and techniques to help Arkansas farmers economically manage the challenge of resistant weeds.”

Dicamba has been banned in several states. Dicamba has been used as an herbicide for more than 50 years to manage 200 broad leaf weeds. It is a Weed Science Society of America Group 4 synthetic auxin – a plant hormone that causes plants to exhibit uncontrolled growth, according to the University of Arkansas. It is more volatile in warmer climates.

ASPB decided earlier this year to allow one formulation, Engenia dicamba, to be used in the state to fight pigweed, an aggressive weed that has plagued farmers in recent years. About 35% of the state’s 3.5 million soybean acres were planted with genetically-altered dicamba tolerant seeds. About 75% (300,000 acres) of the state’s cotton crop was planted with dicamba resistant seeds.

Scientists theorized dicamba was drifting into adjacent crop fields, gardens, and other places. Misapplications, weather conditions, or some other unknown factors may have caused the alleged drift. Tests proved the new formulations were less volatile than older ones, but there was still volatility, and it could last up to 36 hours after it was sprayed. Dicamba can attach to dust particles, meaning it can travel much further from target sites than previously thought.

Some additives enhanced the volatility. Ammonium sulfate and glufosinate increase the damage capabilities of dicamba. Researchers found damage could spread up to 220 feet away from an application site, nearly double the buffer distance the Environmental Protection Agency requires between dicamba and non-dicamba fields. Tests showed that if the wind blew in one direction for several hours, drift could cause damage on adjacent fields and then if the wind changed hours later, the same amount of damage would be caused there.

Talk Business and Politics airs on KASU 91.9 FM on Mondays and Fridays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:51 am.  It also airs during NPR’s All Things Considered on Wednesdays at 5:20 pm.  You can follow more of their coverage on their website TalkBusiness.net where you can also catch the latest Northeast Arkansas news.