Arkansas legislative panel backs proposal to ban herbicide

Arkansas lawmakers recommended regulators move forward Tuesday with efforts to ban an herbicide that farmers in several states say has drifted onto their crops and caused damage, advancing the prohibition despite a lawsuit by a maker of the weed killer.

A legislative subcommittee supported the state Plant Board's proposal to ban the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31. The proposed ban is scheduled to go before the Legislative Council, the Legislature's main governing body when lawmakers aren't in session, for a final vote on Friday.

The Plant Board earlier this month stood by the proposed ban after lawmakers urged the panel to consider revising the proposal.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it to kill invasive weeds in soybean and cotton fields where specially engineered seeds had been planted to resist the herbicide. Because it can easily evaporate after being applied, the chemical sometimes settles on neighboring fields planted with seeds that are not resistant to dicamba.

Lawmakers endorsed the ban after hearing from farmers who have been sharply divided over the restriction. The Plant Board last year approved a temporary ban on the herbicide's sale and use, and has received nearly 1,000 complaints about dicamba. Farmers have also complained about dicamba causing damage to their crops in other states, including Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee.

"We are only asking for a pause in this until we get our hands around this and figure out what we can do," David Wildy, a farmer from east Arkansas, told the panel. "We can't allow this to happen again."

Opponents of the ban said it would put Arkansas at a competitive disadvantage with other states that haven't gone as far in restricting the weed killer.

"Give the farmers in this state an opportunity to compete with the rest of the U.S.," said Joe Mencer, a soybean farmer from southeast Arkansas.

Sen. Bill Sample, the Legislative Council's co-chairman, said he backed the ban even though he had initially asked the board to reconsider its proposal.

"I was satisfied that the science was proven," the Republican lawmaker said.

Monsanto, which makes dicamba, has filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging the ban and claiming the Plant Board exceeded its authority in prohibiting the weed killer. A hearing is scheduled next month in the Missouri-based company's lawsuit, which seeks to block the state from enforcing the ban.

"This vote would put Arkansas farmers at a serious disadvantage and we ask the executive committee to set this right for growers. We will continue to pursue our legal challenge. We will continue to stand with Arkansas growers who need new tools for weed control," Scott Partridge, Monsanto's vice president of global strategy, said in a statement.


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