Arkansas panel stands by proposal to ban disputed herbicide

Arkansas regulators stood by their plan Wednesday to ban an herbicide that farmers in several states say has drifted onto their crops and caused damage, despite a request from lawmakers to reconsider the restriction and a lawsuit by a maker of the weed killer.

The state Plant Board again voted in favor of its proposal to ban the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31. The proposed ban is scheduled to go before a legislative panel later this month.

Lawmakers in December delayed considering the ban and asked the board to consider a new cutoff date based on scientific evidence and potentially a dividing line based on geography in the state. The 11-3 vote in favor of the ban Wednesday came after the board's pesticide committee discussed the reasons for the cutoff dates and recommended sticking with the proposal.

Republican Sen. Bill Sample, who had called for delaying a vote on the ban last month, said he backed the ban after hearing the committee discuss the reasons behind it.

"They did exactly what I asked them to and I will stick by them in their decision," Sample said.

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 planted with seeds that are not resistant to dicamba. The state 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.

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. The Missouri-based company has asked a judge to block the state from enforcing the ban.

"I find it remarkable that the Plant Board has chosen to make the same mistake again they did the first time, and that is come up with a recommendation that is not based on the overwhelming science that these low-volatility formulations can be used safely when applied according to the label," said Scott Partridge, Monsanto's vice president of global strategy.

Board member Marty Eaton, who opposed the ban, said he would have preferred a later cutoff date and other restrictions that would allow farmers to apply the weed killer at least once.

"We've got to have something until the next technology comes to market," Eaton said.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at