On Friday morning, the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) passed a proposal to ban the spraying of dicamba in the state after April 15.
The passage was a quiet affair compared to a subcommittee hearing at the capitol three days earlier, which came on the heels of a wintry storm. At that hearing, lawmakers heard some three hours of impassioned testimony from those wanting the April cutoff date and those wanting it pushed into May or June. On a split vote, the subcommittee sent the dicamba proposal package to the full ALC.
The cutoff proposal first came to the legislature last fall following nearly 1,000 off-target dicamba drift complaints and numerous meetings of both the Arkansas State Plant Board and a dicamba task force set up by the governor.
“This morning was pretty much uneventful before the (Arkansas Legislative Council),” says Perry Galloway, a producer from Gregory, Ark., firmly in the group advocating for a lengthier spraying window. “The dicamba proposals were grouped with a lot of other legislative items.
“There was no debate and it took about 10 seconds, nothing to it. They asked for any objections and when there were none, the committee moved on. Honestly, if you didn’t know what to listen for it would have passed you by.”
The chairman “banged the gavel and went to the next item on the agenda,” says David Hundley, of Ozark Mountain Poultry (OMP). “We were all sitting there looking at each other kind of perplexed – you know, ‘what just happened?’
“We were optimistic but it was a cautious optimism because there is so much political theater behind closed doors. We thought a shoe might drop we hadn’t considered before.”
Does this lessen concerns from farmers providing OMP with non-GMO soybeans for feed?
“I think so,” says Hundley. “We’ve had growers providing us soybeans for three years who said ‘Hey, I can’t take a chance with any damage.’ That’s especially true because of the claims that (Xtend) acres will be doubling. Now, those growers will be able to grow their crops with less concern.”
Neighboring states have passed their own regulations regarding dicamba applications. For example, Mindy Ward of the Missouri Ruralist reports Missouri “will require any individual that buys or sprays dicamba to complete Extension dicamba training. If a farmer or applicator in a neighboring state wants/needs to spray farm ground here, they must complete our training-other state training programs will not be accepted.
“Also, applicators cannot be under a company manager certification --i.e. farmer cooperatives -- every single applicator has to have a license and go through training. It is online and costs $30.”
Does OMP have any growers on the border between Missouri and Arkansas?
“We do,” says Hundley. “We have a customer who lives just on the Missouri side and farms in Arkansas. He’s in an area where there wasn’t a lot of dicamba damage last year. It’s more of a rice/soybean rotation area. It’ll be worth watching what happens on the border this year.”
With Friday’s legislative action, the dicamba issue still hasn’t been put to bed. Two lawsuits have been filed against the Arkansas Plant Board – one by a farmer group Galloway is involved with, the other by Monsanto, which owns the dicamba-tolerant Xtend technology.
Galloway is displeased the Arkansas Plant Board “has again failed to represent the majority of Arkansas farmers. The April 15 cutoff rule did pass through the legislative review but not without numerous legislators questioning the intent and effectiveness of the plant board.”
Following the ALC action, Monsanto’s Scott Partridge struck a melancholy note. “I’d characterize this as a disappointment for Arkansas growers. They’re the same as farmers everywhere – they wake up in the morning hoping the sun will shine on their crops. They’re eternal optimists. They were hoping the (ALC) would do the right thing and reject the recommendation of an outright ban.
“When I spoke to growers this morning, there’s sadness in their voices. They’re worried they’ll be placed at a disadvantage, that they won’t have all the modern tools in the toolbox … in a state that has some of the most difficult-to-manage, tough weeds.
“A couple of them (asked) if this was sending a message from state politicians and policymakers that Arkansas will be slow to accept new technologies in the future. That really worries them.”
As he has in the past, Partridge says training of those spraying dicamba formulations is paramount. “We voluntarily requested the EPA accept a restricted use designation label for our low volatility (dicamba) formulation. They did that and all dicamba formulations this year … require training, record-keeping and certification of training. That’s a good thing.”