LITTLE ROCK — A state legislative panel said Friday it will allow a proposed temporary ban on the sale and use of the controversial herbicide dicamba to go into effect.
The Executive Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council voted to take no action on the Arkansas State Plant Board’s proposed 120-day statewide ban, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved last week. The subcommittee’s decision not to take any action means the ban will go into effect Tuesday unless the full council decides to overrule the subcommittee.
The Legislative Council is not scheduled to meet before Tuesday. The council’s co-chairmen, Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, and Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, said in interviews Friday they would have to call a meeting of the council if 51 percent, or 31, of the members requested one no later than Monday, but they said they did not expect that to happen.
On the same day the ban cleared the subcommittee, Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn issued an order banning the sale or use of dicamba in that state, citing more than 130 complaints from farmers who say that other farmers’ use of the herbicide has caused widespread damage to their crops.
Arkansas’ Plant Board had received 596 complaints about dicamba by Friday. It has fully investigated two of them and determined that applicator error was to blame in each case.
The subcommittee previously discussed the Plant Board’s proposal Wednesday, but at that time it referred the matter to the House and Senate agriculture committees. Those panels met jointly Friday morning and endorsed the ban after hearing hours of testimony for and against the proposal.
Several farmers told the agriculture committees of damages their dicamba-sensitive crops have received after their neighbors applied the herbicide to dicamba-resistant crops to kill weeds. Other farmers asked that the rules not be changed in mid-season.
Dan Westberg, regional manager of the chemical company BASF, which produces herbicides including dicamba, testified that in cases he has investigated of dicamba drifting from one farmer’s crops to another’s, “there has been a complete disregard for buffers” that farmers using the herbicide are supposed to observe.
Westberg also said some people could be using the wrong kind of nozzle to apply dicamba, and some may be applying the herbicide at night during a temperature inversion, when warm air rises above cool air — a situation he said could cause dicamba particles to land off-target.
“It is premature at this point to conclude that it is a fault of the product,” Westberg said.
The issue has caused tensions to run high between farmers. Kerin Hawkins of Leachville testified that her brother, Mike Wallace, was shot and killed Oct. 27 in Mississippi County during an argument with another farmer’s hired hand over dicamba.
Allan Curtis Jones of Arbyrd, Mo., is awaiting trial in the shooting.
“In the past two months we have received damage on approximately 70 to 80 acres of our peanuts in five different fields,” Hawkins said. “We also have received damage on the tomatoes, the bell peppers and the green beans that are on the 10 acres that we have beside our house in the middle of town.”
She said there is no other farm field within a fourth of a mile of the crops growing beside her home.
“To me this proves, if we have received dicamba damage in town on our crops, that buffer zones do not work,” Hawkins said.
Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, recommended during the subcommittee’s meeting that it take no action and allow the Plant Board to implement the temporary ban.
Dismang told reporters after the meeting that he wished lawmakers had more information on which to base a decision. The hours of testimony produced no definitive answers as to what is happening, he said.
“We fully anticipate that the Plant Board is going to work double-time to get through those complaints and see what’s happening, see what the actual causes are, and then let’s take some steps based on science (regarding) what we’re going to do in regards to the product in the future,” he said.
Two days earlier, the subcommittee approved emergency and permanent rules allowing the Plant Board to assess penalties of more than $1,000 but not more than $25,000 for “egregious” violations of dicamba rules that result in significant crop damage.