Arkansas panel backs ban of herbicide dicamba

An Arkansas regulatory panel voted Wednesday to ban the use of an herbicide for part of next year after the weed killer drew complaints from farmers across several states who say it has drifted onto their crops and caused widespread damage.

The Arkansas Plant Board on Wednesday approved prohibiting the use of dicamba in the state between April 16 and Oct. 31. The ban includes several exemptions, including for pastures and home use, and now heads to a legislative panel.

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. The state earlier this year approved a temporary ban on the herbicide's sale and use, and has received nearly 1,000 complaints this year about dicamba.

"I think that this has caused farmer to turn against farmer and people in the community not trusting the farmers near their yards, near their vegetable gardens," said Kerin Hawkins, whose brother, Mike Wallace, was a soybean farmer allegedly shot by a worker from a nearby farm where the chemical had been sprayed. "Everyone's afraid of getting damage from this chemical."

Monsanto, which last month sued Arkansas for previously banning its dicamba weed killer, criticized the panel for the latest restriction and said the move will deprive farmers of a needed tool to protect crops. The company left open the possibility of amending its lawsuit or filing another challenge over the new ban.

"Once again, the plant board has acted in an arbitrary fashion and placed Arkansas farmers for the second year in a row at a tremendous disadvantage," said Scott Partridge, Monsanto's vice president for global strategy.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it had reached a deal with Monsanto along with BASF and DuPont, which also make dicamba herbicides, for new voluntary restrictions for the weed killer's use. Under the deal, dicamba products will be labeled as "restricted use" beginning with the 2018 growing season, requiring additional training and certifications for workers applying the product to crops.

The new federal rules also limit when and how the herbicide can be sprayed, such as time of day and when maximum winds are blowing below 10 mph. Farmers will be required to maintain specific records showing their compliance with the new restrictions.


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