Cotton and soybean farmers in Arkansas are limited on when they can use dicamba again this year, and they are beyond frustrated because it is costing them money and time. Many are reverting to decades-old products to try to control relentless pigweed infestations.
For Chad Fullerton and Chris Leible, CEF Farms, who farm ground in Missouri and across the state line in Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s State Plant Board’s May 25 cutoff date for dicamba use has placed them, and so many other Arkansas farmers, in a very difficult farming position.
“Chris and I didn’t inherit a generational farm. We have had to improve the fertility of the land we’ve managed to get to expand our operation and work it toward profitability,” says Fullerton. “That cutoff date makes no sense and is costing us potential profit at a time when margins are beyond tight and populations of resistant pigweed are exploding.”
On Sept. 17, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s State Plant Board voted to keep the current cutoff date, and also mandated all applications of dicamba made between April 16 and May 25 be reported via an online registry. The restriction on dicamba use during burndown that was added as an emergency rule prior to the 2019 growing season was permanently added as well.
Farming in two states
In 2018, the Missouri part of CEF Farms enjoyed one of the best cotton harvests in recent memory. “We averaged over 1,610 pounds an acre on our Missouri ground,” says Fullerton. “Dicamba allowed us to control the pigweed and stay clean in our Xtend cotton and soybeans.”
Fullerton and Leible could not get into their fields in Arkansas to plant corn until April 15 but wrapped it up in six days when it finally got dry enough to plant. They immediately switched to cotton, got 2,000 acres planted in three days, but the rains came again and all but 300 acres of that cotton died under water.
“We couldn’t replant until May 15. We knew that May 25 cutoff date was going to cost us, and it did,” says Fullerton. “We put out five applications of Liberty on some of our cotton and soybeans in Arkansas, but it only suppressed the pigweed pressure enough to let us just barely make a crop.”
David DaVault, his brother, Brad, and their father, Mike, operate DaVault Arkmo Farms, and as the name implies, they have farms in Missouri and Arkansas. In 2016, they grew their first crop of dicamba-tolerant Xtend soybeans. They admit they sprayed off-label that first year and because of their lack of familiarity with the product, they quickly found out about its volatility. “It drifted onto one of our neighbor’s fields, but we owned up to it and everything is good with the neighbor now,” says David Davault.
“In 2017, we could spray dicamba in-season in Arkansas and we had one of the cleanest crops I’ve ever seen. In 2018, our soybeans had not even emerged by the April 15 cutoff date, so we never got to use dicamba — but we sure needed it.”
With a “45-days-after-planting” window to use dicamba in Missouri, DaVault knows he will have the flexibility he needs to protect his crop from resistant pigweeds. “We didn’t even have our soybeans planted in Arkansas by the current cutoff date this year,” says DaVault.
“I wish the Plant Board would take the wet spring into consideration, but we’re dealing with it the best way we can by putting out residuals like Valor and Boundary.”
The DaVaults had to use their hooded sprayer again this year. “I hate having to do that because you always risk burning the crop with the gramoxone if you have a hood that’s just barely off the ground,” says DaVault.
Costs of production
Fullerton’s closest farm in Arkansas is 11 miles from his shop in Missouri. “We’re not just going over there for a few acres, we’re farming a substantial amount of land in Arkansas,” says Fullerton. “Our cost of production in both states is very similar when you’re talking about fixed costs. But the overall per-acre cost of production in Arkansas is considerably higher for us because we’re having to make multiple trips across those fields with products that are much less effective.”
If Fullerton runs one Xtend and Outlook application in Missouri, it costs him $16.25 an acre, and that application will take care of his weed problem for three or four weeks. “That cost escalates to between $42 and $72 per-acre in Arkansas because of the multiple trips and multiple products, just to try to control pigweed,” says Fullerton.
“Sometimes we hire a custom applicator and that runs us $12 an acre, but if we do it ourselves, it drops the cost to $8. DaVault is right about the hoeing crews, if we have to do that, and we have, that really escalates the per-acre input cost.”
The pigweed pressure on Fullerton’s and DaVault’s operations in both Missouri and Arkansas are just as strong, but having dicamba in Missouri is something they both need and want for their Arkansas farms.
They know some farmers in Arkansas who have resigned themselves to just raise unprofitable corn because they can use other labeled herbicides that cannot be used on cotton and soybeans. “We’re really in a pickle, and it’s costing us precious time during the growing season and a great deal of money we really shouldn’t have to be spending,” said Fullerton.