Arkansas Plant Board Approves Dicamba Ban

Jun 23, 2017

Soybeans with leaves "cupping" upwards, a sign of dicamba damage. Correction: the original caption read "supping."
Credit University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service

The Arkansas Plant Board on Friday voted 9-5 to ban the sale and use of the herbicide dicamba in the state. Dicamba is a chemical sprayed on genetically tolerant fields of soybean in order to kill pigweed. The herbicide is suspected of damaging other crops after drifting in the wind. At least 242 complaints in 19 counties linked to potential dicamba misuse have been filed with the Arkansas Plant Board this year. Most complaints have originated in east Arkansas.

The proposed emergency 120-day dicamba use ban would apply to all agricultural fields except for pastureland. To take effect, the rule still needs the approval of the governor and the Arkansas Legislative Council, says Arkansas Agriculture Department Spokeswoman Adriane Barnes:

“Governor Hutchinson has followed this issue closely and previously tasked Secretary [Wes] Ward and ASPB Director [Terry] Walker with visiting farmers in areas with heavy dicamba damage. Governor Hutchinson will be conducting a thorough review of the proposed rule as soon as possible.

The Governor reviews rules pursuant to Executive Order 15-02, which ensures that the rules do not place an unnecessary burden on business. This is the scope under which the Governor will decide whether the ASPB may proceed with the promulgation process. Also, the Governor only approves the rule for promulgation. It is up to the Executive Subcommittee [of the Arkansas Legislative Council] to approve the rule as effective.”

The only form of dicamba allowed in Arkansas is produced by the chemical company BASF. The only soybean varieties that are genetically resistant to dicamba are produced by Monsanto. A class action lawsuit was filed against both companies on behalf of Arkansas farmers in federal court in Jonesboro earlier this month. 

The Plant Board had been scheduled to decide on a dicamba ban at an emergency meeting on Tuesday, but a procedural error delayed the vote, Barnes said.

Update 6/26/17: In a statement released after the Plant Board's decision, a Monsanto spokesperson said the move "will prevent farmers from having access to all of the available weed control options."

The Plant Board did not allow farmers to describe how the Board’s mid-season action to abruptly remove a valuable weed management tool would affect their operations in connection with the approximately 1.5 million acres of dicamba-tolerant seed already planted throughout Arkansas.   Instead the Board based its decision on off-target movement claims that are still being investigated and have not been substantiated.

Based on a prior decision by the Plant Board, Monsanto has not sold any dicamba products within Arkansas. Experience in the other 33 states where farmers have access to and the ability to fully use dicamba herbicide technology would indicate that decisions to prevent the full usage of dicamba technology have not been beneficial to Arkansas farmers. Arkansas farmers should not be forced to continue to operate at a disadvantage to farmers in other states where bans like the Board’s current proposed action do not exist.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a group that advocates against widespread pesticide use on genetically engineered crops, also sent out a statement following the board vote:

“This is a perfect example of the danger of crops genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance — they promote massive increases in use of these dangerous pesticides,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “When crops resistant to highly toxic pesticides like dicamba are planted, it unfairly endangers the crops of neighboring farmers.”

Dicamba, which is well-known for its tendency to evaporate and drift to nontarget fields, is highly toxic to virtually all fruits and vegetables, as well as many crops that have not been genetically altered to resist it. The pesticide is also linked to increased rates of cancer in farmers and poses increased risks to some of the nation’s most endangered species.

More info on issues with dicamba here.