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Growers sue to set funding aside

With the move, the board announced an assessment – bills will be mailed Aug. 15 – of $8 per acre. While that seems low to Arkansas farmers paying $35 per acre, the $8 assessment far exceeds control costs in much of the two counties, according to eradication opponents who often cite annual weevil control costs of less than $1 per acre.

With such rancor in play, it surprised few people when it was reported that six farmers had filed suit against the Plant Board. In the suit, the farmers claim the Plant Board’s decision to force the program on them amounts to unfair taxation.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs have asked the Circuit Court of Pulaski County in Little Rock to collect and hold their assessments. That way they won’t be fined for late payment, and the money can be quickly refunded if they prevail in court.

“I’m aware of it, but haven’t been served with the suit yet,” says Daryl Little, director of the Plant Board. “I’d prefer to wait until we have a chance to have a look at it and visit with the attorney general’s office before commenting. But no, (the lawsuit being filed) didn’t shock me.”

Danny Kiser, who directs the state eradication effort, says the suit shouldn’t, “at least in the short run, have an effect on our operations. Unless we get other directions, we’re going to go ahead and spray. We’ve already begun mist-blowing in the hotter weevil areas in the forced zone. Our goal was to do up to 40 percent of the acreage this week. Because of some rain, I’m not sure we’ll meet that goal.”

Next week, Kiser says aerial application will begin in the Northeast Ridge Zone (the official name being applied to the holdout area). That should cover about 60,000 acres.

“By Aug. 18, we’ll be in full swing with the program. Initiating this spraying will pay big dividends in our program as well as those in Tennessee and Missouri.”

One of the six plaintiffs, John Rose, a cotton farmer from Blytheville, Ark., says he’s behind eradication efforts in general. What he isn’t for is being forced into a program in lieu of a passed referendum.

“We got in contact with an attorney as soon as we got word that the Plant Board was considering adopting a forced program in this zone,” he said in an interview with Delta Farm Press. We began discussing options with the attorney (Allan Gates of Little Rock) at that time and hired him in early May.

Rose says he has been farming in the Blytheville area since 1974. “I went back to my records and checked from 1979 to 2000 and found that I’d spent an average of 97 cents-per-acre on boll weevil control annually – and that’s been calculated in 2003 dollars,” he said.

“I don’t deny that other farmers need us in an eradication program. It could put their investment in jeopardy if our land isn’t eradicated too. But the point is: it’s their investment. They made it but we don’t need it. We’d be willing to accept eradication, but not at the prices cited in the past. It would have to be considerably less.

“The investment made in the areas around us is considerable. Still, though, it’s an investment like someone buying IBM or Wal-Mart stocks. What’s happened is they’ve run into an area where eradication isn’t needed. But they still want to force us to pay to protect their investment. That’s what we’re fighting. That isn’t the way things need to be done.”

Rose and the other plaintiffs contend the Plant Board doesn’t have the statutory authority to collect any funds without a passed referendum. “Whether they can legally carry out eradication operations in our zone, I don’t know,” he said. “Right now, we’re challenging the idea that they have authority to collect any taxes from us without the passage of a referendum.

“We’re asking the judge allow us to pay our taxes into the registry of the court. That way the money would be protected. In the event the suit is settled in our favor, the money would be there for us to get back.

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