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Despite lengthy process, dicamba regulations still unsettled

Arkansas Plant Board to meet Jan. 3 on dicamba regulations

The next step in the lengthy journey to new dicamba-related regulations in Arkansas will be taken Jan. 3. At that meeting the Plant Board, which passed proposed new regulations in November, will consider a response to the Arkansas Legislative Committee’s (ALC) mid-December request to reconsider and provide additional data to justify, among other things, an April 15 spraying cutoff for dicamba formulations next year.

What did the ALC’s Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee ask of the Plant Board? Chiefly, consideration of revising the proposed rules using “scientific-based evidence, a dividing line to create north and south zones, and ambient temperature and humidity applicable to temperature inversion during night-time hours.”

In 2017, more Xtend soybean acres were planted in the state. There was also almost 1,000 suspected dicamba drift incidents reported during the last growing season.

“We’re just watching the situation, how it evolves, and will be at the Plant Board meetings in January,” says Andrew Grobmyer, Executive Vice President, Agricultural Council of Arkansas. “We’ve not taken a position on a specific cutoff date but have had some discussions about it. Our board believes it’s best if we support the Plant Board in being the body to make that (cutoff date) determination. At the same time, we respect the processes of review that will occur and have occurred.” 

The legislator

Speaking a week after he made the successful motion to send proposed dicamba regulations back to the Plant Board, state Sen. Bill Sample says “There were two factions there that had dug in their heels and weren’t going to move: one for a April 15 cutoff and one for a June 1 cutoff. Personally, I’m not a weed scientist but have dealt with chemicals for 40-plus years. I don’t think you can arbitrarily put a date on a cutoff scientifically unless you say ‘we’re going to ban completely.’ If there continues to be damage after this that might be something we need to do.”  

Is Sample suggesting the possibility of a complete cutoff? “Not until they give us a scientific date. Then, if that scientific date doesn’t work, we’ll go from there. I’m going to give them plenty of room to take it and develop their data on when we should stop using (dicamba). We’ll monitor it closely next year, we’ll go back into session for 2019 and if we still have a problem with dicamba having off-target applications, we’ll take and deal with it at that time.”

If 2018 is a make-or-break year, would that tend to make a conservative cutoff date more likely in order to preserve the technology? “No,” says Sample. “If the off-target applications and damage continues after we set the scientific date, I see no reason why we should have that chemical available for one farmer to hurt another’s crop. And it isn’t just the farmers being beaten up on this, it’s also the landowners being hurt on a share-crop basis. It harms more than the individual farmers.”

If the Plant Board comes back with a hard April 15 deadline, what action might the ALC take?

“That’ll be up to the (ALC) membership,” says Sample. “I’m just trying to get something we can all work with. If the Plant Board can’t help us, we’ll just have to see what the membership wants.”

Producer petition group

One of five to testify before the ALC subcommittee, farmer/aerial applicator Perry Galloway is among the farmers pushing for a reevaluation of the Plant Board dicamba recommendations for 2018. The group has not only set up a petition for likeminded producers – spawning the “Farmers Need Dicamba” roadside signs around row-crop country -- but has also filed a lawsuit against the Plant Board.

“I think (the ALC subcommittee) finally have realized there were a lot of private interests in this and 60 to 70 percent of the farmers who want to raise Xtend crops weren’t being heard,” says Galloway, whose headquarters is in Jasper, Ark. “I think that finally made it to the legislators.”

Was that boosted by the group’s efforts?

“Well, we’re certainly not claiming any victory. Since we started the petition we have farmers with, all told, at least 1.4 million acres of soybeans in the state. That’s a huge number of acres in Arkansas.”

And this is being done in Arkansas, Galloway points out, while “some of the other nearby (soybean-producing) states coming out with more conservative regulatory rules on dicamba – Missouri wants a cutoff of June 1 in the Bootheel and July 15 for the rest of the state, Tennessee wants hooded sprayers after July 15. Of course, Mississippi and Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, have taken no action.

“We were told all along that Arkansas is a leader and whatever regulations we put in place would be followed by other states. That hasn’t happened. Arkansas became an island, an outlier. We’re now at a distinct disadvantage.”

Where does the petition-bearing group stand on the cutoff date?

When testifying before the ALC “I was asked if a June 1 cutoff would be satisfactory. I said, ‘Yes. That would allow us to have one in-season application on our Xtend acres.’ We’re trying to flexible. We’re not asking for season-long use. We just want something comparable to other states where we’re not at a disadvantage.”

Other states are considering a dicamba spraying cutoff when temperatures hit 85 degrees, a threshold meant to help keep dicamba volatility in check.

“On June 1, the 10-year historical average high temperature is 83 degrees” in Little Rock,” says Galloway. “You have to get to around June 9 until it hits 85 degrees. Then, On June 15 or 16 is when the average hits 90. Temperatures in south Arkansas are probably a degree higher on those dates. In north Arkansas, they’re probably a degree lower.

“So, in south Arkansas, even on June 1, the average temperature falls below that 85 degree threshold.”

What about spraying zones?

“If it comes to zones, the easiest split would be I-40. … There is often a two or three week difference between growing seasons in south Arkansas and northeast Arkansas.”

Where does the group’s lawsuit stand?

“We’re waiting on a response from the Plant Board. Ultimately, that means we’ll hear from the Attorney General’s office since they represent the Plant Board.”

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