A quick rundown: as of September 13, harvest season is underway in earnest, the Arkansas Governor’s Dicamba Task Force report has been released, a spraying cutoff date (proposed by the task force and approved by the Plant Board’s Pesticide Committee) of April 15 has been proposed for 2018, Monsanto has filed a petition with the Plant Board asking the task force’s recommendations be ignored and, most importantly, there are 966 dicamba drift complaints in the state.
On Tuesday (September 12), the Pesticide Committee unanimously agreed to accept the task force recommendation of an April 15 cutoff for spraying dicamba. The other two issues on the committee’s plate --
- Amend current law allowing “egregious violations” subject to enhanced penalties without the need to prove “significant off-target crop damage.”
- Increased independent and university testing of new products before they come to market, with the stipulation that both seeds and herbicide be ready for market simultaneously.
– require legislative action. For those two, the committee passed a motion saying they backed the task force decision.
“It was an interesting meeting,” says David Hundley, with Ozark Mountain Poultry (OMP) and a member of the task force. “Towards the end, there was an industry representative who traveled from North Carolina who spoke. He was a rep of the Nufarm company that manufactures Cheetah, a generic glufosinate. He read a letter refuting Monsanto’s charge that their product was tainted and helped lead to some of the damage in crops. He gave evidence of repeated testing -- some by third parties -- showed no sign of the tainting and wanted a retraction of the charge. That was a bit tense.”
A few weeks ago, when tainted herbicide jugs claims were being blamed for dicamba drift, Hundley “thought it was a reach. Having worked in the distribution channel previously, I know all these chemicals always have lot numbers so if there’s ever a problem you can go back to the lot and pull a sample for testing immediately.”
The committee also received a letter from UPI, which manufactures Interline, another generic glufosinate. “They denied the same type claims and showed where their lot numbers had also been repeatedly tested, again with third parties, and there was no detection of dicamba.”
Poultry and dicamba
What are Hundley’s thoughts on the petition and the task force?
“I was representing the poultry industry on the Task Force but I was born and raised in Bay, Ark. I managed a grain elevator for OMP there. So, although, I’m now in the poultry industry, I have spent most of my adult life in some phase of production agriculture.
Probably the thing I was most taken aback by was Dr. Fraley’s letter to the governor where he said the task force ignored evidence presented.”
In the letter, Fraley lists four things:
“The Task Force ignored evidence that the following factors played a significant role in the unusually high number of dicamba symptomology reports received from Northeastern Arkansas: (1) contamination of other herbicides applied by farmers in that area, (2) widespread illegal use of older, higher volatility dicamba herbicide formulations; (3) localized weather conditions that may have resulted in widespread improper use of new low-volatility formulations during inversions; and (4) applicator errors with respect to nozzle choice, boom height and other key label requirements for the use of approved, lower-volatility dicamba formulations. As shown in Monsanto's enclosed petition for rulemaking, there is substantial evidence implicating all four of these factors, all of which are readily correctible through additional training, education, and enforcement.”
Hundley says there “was no evidence presented to the task force. Now, there were Monsanto spokesmen who said these things happened. Well, we asked for evidence and the response was, kind of, ‘we hear it’s happening.’ We couldn’t act on that!
“One company representative claimed Banvel sales were way up. I asked where the data was and he didn’t have it. That’s data that, if available, we felt should have been front and center. Well, that’s not something the task force could use to make a decision.”
Despite doubts going in, Hundley now credits the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute for “doing an excellent job of keeping everyone (on the task force) focused on the task at hand. They allowed the representatives from the manufacturing companies to participate in some of the small group exercises. Our small group had two ladies from the regulatory and research side of Monsanto who were more than pleasant and were given every opportunity to be involved in the exercise.
“There weren’t any knock-down, drag-out type arguments. I felt the only tense time in the entire process was the last hour when we were casting votes for consensus. It was not a parliamentary type process but a consensus type process that forced everyone to be involved in the decision rather than just casting a vote.”
In the end, the belief was any application allowed after April 15 “might warp the planting season.” Hundley points to an example of a June 1 deadline. “Someone could plant Xtend technology, say, on June 1 and not have applied any pre-plant herbicides while planning to go with just a post-application of one of the approved dicamba products. Well, miss that June 1 deadline – say he’s out of the field due to rainfall seven to 10 days until June 5 -- and the farmer has two options: disk the crop up or spray and risk the cost of being caught and fined. Once that deadline is missed, there are no second options for weed control.
“When we sat down it became obvious we were trying to fix an issue that can’t be fixed with this herbicide. It volatilizes and moves. You can’t fix that with more training, with different nozzles, with different types of application.
“That’s where 75 percent of the task force came down and that’s largely why there was a cut-off suggested with untraceable off-target drift where there’s no opportunity for a damaged grower to be compensated for his damage. The manufacturers have offered zero help to damaged farmers. They have continually blamed the damage on their neighbors for applying either off label products or not following the label. Several of us could get past the fact that all of a sudden the producers in Arkansas did not know how to apply chemicals as claimed by the manufacturers.”
OMP and GMOs
Ozark Mountain Poultry has a non-GMO program.
“We contract non-GMO soybeans and corn -- a premium that starts at about $1 over November futures on soybeans -- to be grown. We were able to originate 100 percent of our corn acres and less than 50 percent of our soybean acres under our non-GMO protocol this year. In the nom-GMO protocol we feed chickens a totally non-GMO diet and have several customers who demand that. Right now, it’s about 25 to 30 percent of our total chicken production.”
It’s a demand driven market, Hundley reminds.
“Where the drift issue began causing us problems was late last fall when guys who’d grown non-GMOs for us in previous years said, ‘Hey, I can’t do this anymore. My neighbor is growing (dicamba-tolerant) cotton, and I have no choice but to plant Xtend beans to keep from getting hit with dicamba.’ These fears were based on all the damage that occurred in 2015 and 2016 prior to the release of the labeled dicamba products.
“In the past, we’ve always been able to contract 100 percent of our needed feed production from local Arkansas farmers. We weren’t able to do that this year and being an Arkansas company that is something we strive to do each year.”
Post task force
“The way this whole situation was rolled out is very disheartening. I’ve been in agriculture since I started chopping cotton at 10 years old, and spent my whole life in and around farming, and I’ve never seen anything divide the agricultural community like this.”
Hundley admits he’s taken some heat for his stance.
“There have certainly been people unhappy with the task force recommendations. And I knew there’d be those reactions when I agreed to be a member. My wife asked why I’d put myself in such a position, and it was because to me it was just that important. We have to prove to the public that we as an industry can self-regulate when issues arise. We are way too small of an industry to get divided and allow the court of public opinion to regulate our industry.
“But I can tell you this: there was no one on that task force who wanted a complete ban on this technology. Everyone on the task force wanted the companies involved to step up and provide new formulations that actually stay where applied. Go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make it work.
“We need the Xtend technology and these new formulations to combat weeds. We have a serious weed resistance problem in this state. Even the most ardent members who wanted the drift to stop acknowledged that.
“How about instead of trying to destroy or undermine the research done this year, let’s go back and figure out how to make these new formulations safer? The entire summer was lost on the opportunity for collaborative research efforts between the manufacturers and university researchers that could have come to a possible solution.”