An executive subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council on Wednesday deferred a decision to Friday on whether to prohibit the sale and use of the herbicide dicamba for soybean and cotton crops. The proposed 120-day ban, approved by the Arkansas Plant Board last month and referred to the subcommittee by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, could prevent further widespread damage inflicted by the chemical on non-genetically resistant agricultural crops.
Addressing the group of senior legislative members on the subcommittee, Arkansas Plant Board Director Terry Walker described how inspectors follow up on the unprecedented number of complaints linked to potential misuse of dicamba.
The legislative panel did approve an emergency rule to impose stricter penalties—from $1,000 up to $25,000—for “egregious violations” in misusing dicamba, which is primarily used to combat pigweed. The weed has recently grown resistant to other pesticides.
The joint House and Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hear more testimony from Walker on Friday at 9 a.m. The ALC executive subcommittee then meets at 1 p.m. to review the rule again.
The state Plant Board has logged more than 550 complaints about possible dicamba misuse this year, most concentrated in eastern Arkansas counties. Neighboring states, like Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri have also seen a rise in crop damage linked to dicamba, which can drift in the heat and wind impacting crops that are not genetically tolerant.
About a third of the Arkansas’s 3.5 million acres of soybean crop are estimated to be dicamba-tolerant, Walker said. Of the hundreds of complaints filed this year, plant board staffers have reached the final stage of investigation in a handful of cases — 10 or 12, he said.
Dicamba has been known to impact a non-tolerant field of soybeans in the reproductive stages of growth by reducing yields, germination and the vigor of seedlings.
Some legislators on the panel, like State Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville), were troubled by the lack of verified complaints. He suggested the state should complete the verification process before a statewide prohibition is considered.
State Sen. Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) showed wariness that the state could be causing economic harm on farmers who use dicamba because they had already made an investment in the herbicide and the genetically engineered dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton. Hendren also said that despite the higher than usual numbers of complaints, there could be “thousands of farmers” who have no complaints about the herbicide.
Of the seven members who were present at the subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, all represent areas of north or western Arkansas. Only two, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) represent parts of counties were dicamba-related complaints have originated. Most complaints have come from eastern counties.
Gillam, himself a berry farmer, questioned why the Arkansas Plant Board had in December approved a form of dicamba — Engenia, produced by BASF — for this growing season. Walker replied that at the time there were demands from planters who said they needed the herbicide and the crop technology to battle ever encroaching weeds, while others said it would cause havoc. Walker said it was a matter of battling interests that has since reached a point few could foresee.
“The problems we’re seeing now are much bigger than anything anyone anticipated,” he said.
This post was edited on 7/7/17.