LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas regulators gave initial approval Thursday to banning an herbicide for part of next year after the weed killer prompted complaints here and in several other states from farmers who say it’s drifting onto their crops and causing significant damage.
The state Plant Board approved new regulations that prohibit the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31, 2018, the second temporary ban of the herbicide backed by the panel. The board earlier this year temporarily banned dicamba’s sale and use and said it’s received nearly 1,000 complaints about the herbicide.
“This is everywhere in our environment and if we don’t get a handle on it, the Natural State will not be the same as it is today,” Richard Coy of Jonesboro, who owns the largest beekeeping operation in the state. Coy said the herbicide’s drift may be harming flowering plants that are necessary for bees to pollinate and jeopardizing honey production.
Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it on soybean and cotton fields where they planted new seeds engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. Because it can easily evaporate after being applied, the chemical sometimes settles on neighboring fields. Some farmers illegally sprayed dicamba before federal regulators approved versions that were designed to be less volatile.
The restrictions were approved despite complaints from dicamba makers who said there wasn’t enough information to determine whether the drift was caused by other factors, such as how some farmers apply it. Earlier Thursday, the board denied a petition by Monsanto that would have allowed its dicamba herbicide to be used in the state.
“We’re going to follow through on the next steps, and we hope growers and other stakeholders will engage. What they’ve done essentially in this position is deny growers the access to technology we know growers want,” Ty Vaughn, vice president of global regulatory for Monsanto, said after the vote.
The board will hold a public hearing on the restrictions Nov. 8 before they go to lawmakers to review.
A spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he supports the board’s action since it followed a recommendation from a task force that had studied the issue and last month recommended a cutoff from April 15 through the end of next year. Spokesman J.R. Davis said the governor did not have to review the restriction since he had already approved the temporary ban this year.
The herbicide is also suspected as a factor in the slaying of an Arkansas soybean farmer, who was allegedly shot by a worker from a nearby farm where the chemical had been sprayed. Farm worker Allan Curtis Jones, 27, is accused of shooting Mike Wallace, 55, in a confrontation over dicamba, which Wallace believed had drifted from the farm where Jones worked to damage his soybean crop.
“It’s not just an Arkansas issue. I feel like they’re doing their research. It does take time to rectify these things, but I think they’re doing the best job they have with the information they have,” Karen Wallace, his wife, said after the vote.
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