So far, it’s been a busy July for the Mid-South agricultural sector and state officials tasked with regulating herbicides.
How has the month unspooled?
On July 7, with a dicamba drift complaint count exceeding 600 in the state, Arkansas’ Joint Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development Committee recommended the subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council ban the spraying of formulations of the herbicide.
The problems with dicamba drift have been exacerbated during the last several growing seasons with the approval of dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton.
The subcommittee did not act on the joint committee’s recommendation. That means the ban, unless stopped by a subcommittee lawmaker within 24 hours, will take effect. The 120-day ban would mean the herbicide is, except for exemptions for forage and pastures, effectively banned for the remainder of the 2017 growing season.
Also approved is a new penalty matrix for egregious spraying violations that could cost offenders $25,000 per incident. The previous fine cap available to the Arkansas State Plant Board was $1,000.
The 120-day Arkansas ban effectively takes the herbicide out of any application program for the growing season.
The often bumpy, circuitous path to the Arkansas ban was kicked off with multiple drift complaints in 2016 and continuing warnings from Mid-South weed scientists that widespread use of dicamba would only result in more off-target crop damage.
Ford Baldwin, weed scientist and Delta Farm Press contributor, spoke at length before the joint agriculture committee hearing Friday morning. Among his comments: “I fully understand that growers planting Xtend crops are happy with the weed control and I know the agronomic genetics are good. In the proper programs, weed control in Xtend crops has been very good in research as it has been in several other current and developing technologies.
“This weed scientist believes herbicides are a wonderful thing if they do their intended job and they can be used without causing harm to others. In this case the second part is not happening and that is why we are here.
“There is an equally large segment that are happy with their Roundup Ready’s and do not wish to pay an increased trait fee; there are those happy with Liberty Link soybeans and wish to continue to use it as a diversity tool; some want to grow non-GMO soybeans for specialty markets for a premium; some want to grow food beans for a specialty market and so on.
“A wedge has been driven between these groups just as I predicted four to five years ago and tensions and tempers are running extremely high in the field.
“I am aware of a fight that occurred yesterday.”
At the same time, Missouri – also seeing a surge in drift complaints -- announced a dicamba ban of its own (http://bit.ly/2tOrnDv). “Since Jan. 1, 2017, the Department’s Bureau of Pesticide Control has received more than 130 pesticide drift complaints that are believed to be related to dicamba, which has allegedly damaged thousands of acres of crops,” reads a Missouri Department of Agriculture press release. “The decision to issue a Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order in Missouri was made with an abundance of caution and is temporary until a more permanent solution is reached.
“’We want to protect farmers and their livelihoods. At the same time, my commitment to technology and innovation in agriculture is unwavering,” (Missouri) Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn said. “That’s why I am asking the makers of these approved post-emergent products, researchers and farmers to work with us to determine how we can allow applications to resume this growing season, under certain agreed upon conditions.’”
“Pesticide distributors and retailers must immediately stop all sales and offers of sales of all dicamba products labeled for agricultural use. All agricultural pesticide users, including certified commercial applicators and private applicators, must immediately cease in-crop, post-emergent use of all dicamba products. Products include, but are not limited to:
- FeXapan herbicide plus VaporGrip Technology, EPA Registration Number 352-913.
- Engenia Herbicide, EPA Registration Number 7969-345.
- XTENDIMAX with VaporGrip Technology, EPA Registration Number 524-617.”
By July 13, Missouri officials had agreed to allow the dicamba formulations back in state fields. But they narrowed and clarified the new regulations further (http://bit.ly/2viipfH).
A day earlier, on July 12, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, facing some 70 suspected dicamba-drift complaints largely in western Tennessee, issued new rules on spraying both old and new formulations of the herbicide.
Use of older formulations was banned outright.
Looking to fight temperature inversion and resulting off-target damage, newer dicamba formulations – Engenia and XtendiMax among them – can now only be sprayed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Further “anyone applying dicamba products must be certified as a private applicator or licensed as a pest control operator in the category of Agricultural Pest Control (AGE), and is required to keep records for such applications.”
The final new rule also bans “applying dicamba over the top of cotton after first bloom.”
“Our approach will offer protection to those who stand to be negatively impacted by off-target movement of dicamba while also allowing those farmers who have invested in products designed for their crops to continue to use the appropriate herbicides responsibly,” Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton said in a press release.
Templeton’s statement continues: “Agriculture today is dependent more than ever on new and evolving technologies to help us feed and clothe the world. I’m confident that we can address this issue as we have in other cases to ensure the safe and effective use of these tools. We will be forming an advisory group representative of stakeholders to help us determine the best path forward going into the next year.”
In late June, Larry Steckel, University of Tennessee weed specialist, had already been walking many drift-damaged fields. The pace hasn’t slowed.
“Really, what’s happening here is the mirror image of what’s happening across the river,” said Steckel. “We’re in this together…
“I knew we’d see drift and there’d be problems. But I had no idea it would be to this scale. The scale caught us all off-guard, I think.”
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture says “suspected misapplication should be reported immediately at (800)628-2631 or (615)837-5148. The department will take appropriate enforcement action for any misapplication, including but not limited to suspension or revocation of a certificate and state penalties up to $1,500 per violation, in addition to federal penalties and possible criminal prosecution.
“To assist producers and others who have questions, TDA has developed a dicamba resources webpage with links to educational information, a complete listing of approved dicamba products and the new rules at http://bit.ly/2ukkQ3N.”