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HARD LINE ON OFF-LABEL USE: Farmers in Indiana are watching to see what happens now that Missouri passed a tough law with stiff penalties for those using herbicides off-label.

Missouri Legislature sends message about tolerance for off-label herbicide use

Will tough action have unintended consequences for farmers doing things right?

The email I received was from an Indiana farmer. He discovered an article on a sister website for the Missouri Ruralist titled "Spraying herbicides off-label in Missouri will cost you." Once he read how much it could cost you, the article certainly grabbed his attention. He was even more captivated once he learned that the law passed by the Missouri Legislature applies to all herbicides, not just dicamba-based products.

Mindy Ward, editor of Missouri Ruralist, says the bill was a reaction to a rash of cases of illegal herbicide use in southeast Missouri in 2016. Missouri officials investigated 100 cases. Crops were damaged. One confrontation between farmers over drift issues even turned deadly.

The law passed by the Missouri Legislature and signed by the governor recently sets a $10,000 fine for the first offense if it’s determined that a farmer applies a herbicide off-label. If there is a second offense, the fine jumps to $25,000. And if an applicator refuses to produce records requested by officials during an investigation, he or she can be fined $5,000.

How severe are those penalties? If someone is determined at fault in a drift and damage case in Indiana after an investigation by the Office of the Indiana State Chemist, the fine is usually a few hundred dollars at most.

The folks in Missouri are obviously serious about stopping misuse of pesticides. Ward says the situation burned out of control in 2016 when dicamba-tolerant soybeans were available for planting, but no dicamba-based products those crops were yet approved. Some farmers with king-size weed issues decided they couldn’t wait any longer and applied dicamba products not approved for that use. The newer products now labeled have been modified to prevent drift. Volatilization and drift-sensitive crops have always been an issue for older dicamba products.

Ramifications elsewhere?
Time will tell if other states decide to take a hard line on off-label use of pesticides, as well. That may partly depend upon how the law is enforced in Missouri.

What bothers the Indiana farmer who found the Missouri story is that many factors can cause a herbicide to drift. Changes in weather and environmental conditions over a short period can produce unintended consequences in a hurry. He’s concerned that even if a farmer is following the label, with that kind of law in place, it could be difficult to prove if weather conditions turn against him or her.

Another factor worth considering is that some pesticide experts have said off the record that following the labels completely for some new dicamba products is virtually impossible. Even if an applicator with good intentions does everything possible to adhere to the label, the label is so broad and contains so many stipulations that not running afoul of it somewhere along the line will be very difficult.

All that said, it’s understandable why farmers who suffered through the man-made disaster in southeast Missouri a year ago didn’t want to risk going through that again. They made a strong case to legislators and the governor, and the politicians delivered a strong response.

Missouri has always been known as the Show-Me State. This year, many farmers, regulators and maybe even a few politicians will be watching Missouri as the spraying season unfolds.    

TAGS: Legislative
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