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Independents weigh in on consultants legislation

The independents

Right now, Marvin Wall has his heels dug in. But, if others are willing to give some ground, then Wall is too. Wall, a retired area Extension entomologist for southeast Arkansas, is speaking out on behalf of independent consultants within the state.

“Voluntary licensing for consultants first came about in 1987. It came in under the radar – I wasn’t even aware such a thing existed for years. A group of consultants within the Arkansas Crop Consultants Association (ACCA) agreed to the licensing and still do,” says Wall.

Another consulting group – the group Wall speaks for -- is loosely knit and, up to this point, is made up of consultants who aren’t licensed. The split between the groups is probably about 50/50, says Wall. But depending on the part of the state, there may be more of one group than another. Around Wall’s home in McGehee, for example, there are fewer licensed consultants.

“Many of the unlicensed consultants – the independents who weren’t a part of ACCA – started working as a way to supplement their school teaching incomes during the summer. Some of them then moved into scouting and consulting full-time.”

Reasons for opposition

The reason independent consultants started opposing the original Plant Board bill (first introduced last October) is that many wouldn’t have even qualified to take the licensing test. Wall’s son, Steven, works as a consultant and is a good example.

“He’s got plenty of college. But he didn’t have enough hours of college in the areas they wanted.”

Another concern: former Extension employees like Wall will be unable to dispense advice.

“We give out free advice to farmers all the time – we’re just trying to help. Well, right now, under the AAAA bill and with as many years of experience as I’ve got – and I’ve been in the business of field control of insects since 1958 – if one of my good, farming friends calls and asks me for spraying advice, I couldn’t do it without breaking the law. Before I could legally do that, I’d have to get licensed as a consultant.

“In the end, farmers will be hurt. There is a wealth of ex-Extension folks in the state that farmers depend on for information. I’m now licensed for research demonstration and as a private applicator. But I’ll have go back and get licensed as a consultant before giving out advice on field crops. Do farmers want that well of advice to dry up?”

Another big concern from the chemical companies standpoint is all the extra paperwork, says Wall. The company reps and salesmen already have to fill out a sales sheet, another sheet from the Plant Board on where the pesticides were delivered and other information. The new form (where anyone making recommendations must list product, date, field and other information) that’s being suggested is just “piling on.”

“The way they were talking about this, even the over-the-counter salesmen will have to fill out a form. Really, is that the chemical company’s responsibility? I don’t see it as a consultant’s responsibility. It’s the applicator and farmer’s responsibility to know what’s around the field that they could harm with an application. It’s the consultant’s responsibility to tell them if treatment is needed and what products will do the job needed.”

Responsibility shift

The big thing Wall sees in the bills are attempts to shift responsibility from the aerial applicators and farmers to consultants and chemical reps. But before anything is done on this, everyone should consider that there are large volumes of chemical sales over the internet now, he says.

“These chemical people also do a lot of selling while running down the highway talking on the cell phone. Our Dow salesman may make 60 recommendations during a day. It’s rather difficult to fill out a sheet on every one of those.”

What would Wall suggest be done to alleviate concerns about making such a volume of recommendations while driving down the road?

“The Plant Board started out wanting to establish a paper trail to avoid what happened with Fury a couple of years ago. This bill doesn’t fix that. The FMC rep that came through our area pushing Fury on wheat – and there’s no better word to describe what he was doing than ‘pushing’ – won’t be stopped by this. He drove through working a cell phone. He would call farmers and consultants and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got armyworms on wheat around here and Fury does a great job on it.’ Now, he didn’t fill out a form then and he won’t fill one out now. He’s not that stupid. I don’t see where it heads off anything like that.

“I can understand where we need a bill to cover such situations. The Plant Board tells us they didn’t have the authority to deal with FMC in that matter. Well, I have questions about that. I believe it is covered under state law – certainly federal. These people were in direct violation of the labeling laws, and I think some of them should have done jail time and faced serious fines. They shouldn’t have just gotten slaps on the wrist like they got.

“Putting such willful violators in jail and hitting their wallets is the only way to stop that mess from happening again. It’s ridiculous that no one did jail time over that and the rank-and-file consultants and farmers I speak with are all in agreement on that.”

As far as licensing consultants, if the Plant Board can come up with a fair mode for doing it, Wall has no complaints.

“The licensing fee can’t be exorbitant, but the concept isn’t something we’re deeply opposed to. I do think there should be a waiver for ex-Extension employees. People like myself should be able to give advice without being licensed.”

And trying to shift responsibility through the state is ultimately futile, says Wall. “This may be trying to shift blame and liability away from aerial applicators and farmers. But under federal law, the end user is ultimately responsible. Whoever puts the chemical on the field, the buck stops there. There’s no way to change that.”

Hammering it out

Wall suggests a powwow needs to be arranged among all interested parties.

“If we could get representatives from all groups in a big room, we could hammer this thing out. It might take a week of arguing back and forth, but we could get it done. Everyone would have to give a little bit, but we could find middle ground to agree on new regulations.”

Many of the things the Plant Board wants in the bill, independent consultants agree with anyway. For example, most consultants already leave a written recommendation – something the new bill wants to be mandatory.

“For the growers that want it, my son has been leaving the same form Extension uses when making recommendations. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if they would combine a treatment recommendation sheet with the page we already work up with insect counts. We could sign that and away we’d go. Otherwise, the paper work becomes prohibitive.”

Now that the Plant Board has no plans to introduce a new bill, Arkansas aerial applicators should consider shelving theirs, says Wall.

“The aerial applicators need to think this thing through. In this state, the growers, chemical reps, consultants and aerial applicators have traditionally had a very good working relationship. The applicator’s bill will pit the consultants and chemical reps against the aerial applicators. I don’t think they want that.”

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