Arkansas Legislative Council To Review Herbicide Ban

Jul 3, 2017

Soybean plants showing dicamba-related damage
Credit University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service

This week the Arkansas Legislative Council may decide whether to approve a 120-day ban on the sale and use of the herbicide dicamba. The council will also review a regulation that imposes penalties on those who violate the rule or misuse the herbicide.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved the promulgation of the new rule on Friday  and referred the matter to the council. Dicamba is applied to a genetically tolerant variety of soybean, but growers of non-tolerant crops have complained the chemical is contaminating their fields.

Complaints linked to the potential misuse of dicamba has reached record numbers this year. At last check, the Arkansas Plant Board had recorded more than 500 complaints, most concentrated in east Arkansas. It is unclear how the chemical will impact agricultural yields or whether it will lead to any losses, but it is suspected of damaging thousands of acres of Arkansas cropland.

On June 23, the Arkansas Plant Board voted 9-5 to approve the dicamba prohibition. With the governor’s decision, the legislative council’s approval is the last step for the ban to take effect. A council subcommittee is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

In a letter sent to state Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward and Plant Board Director Terry Walker on Friday, Hutchinson said he felt that other “more limited options were not debated and considered.” He expressed concern that the ban would take effect in the middle of the growing season, but said “the volume of complaints do justify emergency action.”  

Along with the dicamba sale and use ban, Hutchinson approved the “Pesticide Enforcement Response Regulation,” which would allow the Plant Board to impose fines between $1,000 to $25,000 for “egregious violations,” which the letter defines as “actions significant off-target crop damage occurring as a result of the application of dicamba or auxin-containing herbicide or any new herbicide technology released after the effective date of Act 778.” The Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 778 this year, increasing the penalties for dicamba misuse. but legislature did not pass an emergency clause that would have made the law go into effect immediately. The proposed rule change would accomplish that aim.

Hutchinson also called on Ward and Walker to form a task force to study and investigate problems with the dicamba technology and provide recommendations for the future.

"This debate will continue into future planting seasons, and Arkansas needs a long-term solution," he said. 

The only legally allowable form of dicamba is produced by BASF, under the trade name Engenia. Monsanto produces the only dicamba-resistant variety of soybeans for planting. The herbicide is primarily used to kill pigweed, which in Arkansas and other states has grown tolerant to Roundup, another herbicide. When applied to a field, dicamba can drift in the wind and contaminate other fields.

State agriculture officials suspect that this kind of contamination can occur even if farmers have followed all the proper guidelines in applying the chemical to their soybean crop. Officials have also suspected that farmers could be using forms of dicamba that are already outlawed. Plant Board inspectors are to investigate any complaints related to the herbicide.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Arkansas farmers have planted roughly 3.55 million acres of soybeans this season, an increase of 420,000 acres over the previous season.