As Arkansas pesticide regulators debated the fate of dicamba herbicides, farmer Perry Galloway sat quietly in the audience gallery through most of the day-long board meeting.
It wasn’t his plan to be so quiet. Galloway, of Gregory, Arkansas, and attorney Grant Ballard had prepared earlier in the week to present the Arkansas State Plant Board with a grass-roots plan to allow farmers access to postemergence dicamba applications.
The plant board’s agenda did not include time for public comments. While several board members referred to the farmers’ effort during breaks from the meeting, there was no official recognition of it.
“That was the real disappointment,” Galloway said from his combine cab the day after the plant board voted to prohibit dicamba use across the state from April 16 to Oct. 31. “We just wanted the chance to talk about the issue before they voted, and we didn’t get it.”
The letter to the plant board was originally signed by seven Arkansas farmers. By the time the meeting started Thursday morning, Galloway said the group had some 300 additional petitioners representing 1.4 million acres of cotton and soybeans across the state.
Restrictions the farmers were recommending included:
— May 25 cutoff instead of April 15;
— No sale of any older dicamba formulations, to prevent misuse of older, more volatile formulations;
— No spraying before 8 a.m. or after 4 p.m.;
— No spraying above 88F after April 15;
— 1 mile buffer between Xtend seed and susceptible crops, except for farmers’ own cropland or if given written waivers from neighbors;
— Any uses beyond recommendations would require plant board approval;
— Website tracking of dicamba applications;
— A fee on seed and dicamba to fund ASPB activities;
— Users prove they have at least $1 million in liability insurance to cover drift or other “overspray” situations;
— Increased applicator training;
— Fines of $25,000 per incident for serious violations.
Galloway and fellow co-signers felt the plant board wasn’t truly representing farmers in the state. “You have a board member who says he’s representing cotton farmers. This year, cotton was probably more than 80% Xtend seed, the farmers loved it. How can you say you’re representing cotton farmers when you vote against that.”
In a separate interview, Scott Partridge, Monsanto vice president of global strategy, said that while the company feels the Arkansas farmers should have been heard at the meeting, Monsanto is generally against a patchwork of state dicamba regulations.
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“We believe the EPA is going to act very soon and a uniform national standard is what is needed here,” Partridge said.
He said the company also disagrees with an application cutoff date. “We don’t think a cut-off date is necessary. We believe this product can be used safely in accordance with the label. Right now the plant board is ignoring science, and Monsanto, and have told farmers who showed up that hearing, you don’t have a voice; we’re not going to listen to you.”
TIME AND PLACE
“We don’t have anything against their proposal,” board member and fertilizer consultant Larry Jayroe said after the meeting’s end. “It’s just that our quarterly meetings aren’t set up to hear from the general public. These are meetings with a specific agenda to get through the work the plant board is responsible for completing. If we would have let them speak, we’d have to let anyone who wanted to address the board speak.”
The plant board announced that there will be a public hearing Nov. 8 where all who want to share thoughts and opinions on the proposed regulations can do so.
“We will definitely be at that hearing, and in full force,” Galloway told DTN. “We could be representing some 25% of the soybeans in the state. I have to feel (the board and other state leaders) will have to recognize us.”
FRUSTRATION AND WEEDY FIELDS
Galloway and his fellow farmers say they understand the controversy over dicamba use in-season. Many are from soybean and cotton-heavy Mississippi County. Their farms were Ground Zero in what plant board member Rick Cartwright called “this great in-field experiment of 2017.” Farmers say the herbicide worked in the fields it was applied, cleaning out glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth and other weeds.
As he talked to DTN on his mobile phone, Galloway said his combine yield monitor is showing more than 90 bushels per acre for the field of Xtend beans he’s cutting, and weeds were controlled.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the dicamba herbicides applied to Xtend crops also found their way to places not intended. That led to nearly 1,000 herbicide damage complaints across the state. The Arkansas State Plant Board, which controls pesticide regulations in the state, issued a temporary ban of the product in mid-summer.
On Sept. 21 the board approved a measure that makes dicamba applications between April 16 and Oct. 31 illegal, essentially banning nearly all post-emergent applications that the Xtend soybean and cotton seed was created to allow.
Manila, Arkansas, farmer David Wildy served as a member of the Arkansas Dicamba Task Force, which came up with the new regulations. He agrees the herbicide and seed system are important to the state’s farmers right now.
“Nobody wants to use it on their farm more than I do,” Wildy told plant board members during their fall meeting in Little Rock. “But there are alternatives. Until we get this volatility issue under control, we can’t use the product safely.” He feels the proposals from Galloway and others address problems like drift. “They don’t address the volatility issue, other than creating large buffer areas.” He said those large buffer zones may be workable for some farmers in certain areas of the state, but put farmers in areas with smaller field sizes at an economic disadvantage.
“We realize that some of the recommendations won’t work for everyone, that’s why we really wanted to talk before the board vote,” Galloway said, the alarm beep of his yield monitor through the phone marking another end-row pivot. “These were suggestions that we wanted to get out there, and then have a conversation around what everyone thought would work and what wouldn’t.” He feels such a conversation won’t happen at a full public hearing with hundreds expecting to have their time at the microphone.
Board member Jayroe said he hopes the farmers will attend. He says the board does want to listen. He also hopes all farmers in the state will consider the real reason for the board’s decision to limit dicamba use across the state.
“There was something that was lost in the latest discussion, but was in the original comments we made as a board. We’re trying to save this technology, not kill it.
“We really felt that if we had another year like 2017, EPA would simply pull the label forever. Our farmers need this technology along with all the other tools they have to control resistant weeds. There are alternatives now, until we figure out how to use dicamba safely. But if we lose it, it’s gone.”
The full article on the Arkansas State Plant Board meeting is here: http://bit.ly/…
Arkansas farmers who want to sign on to the petition can do so by emailing here: firstname.lastname@example.org
The full letter to the plant board is available here: http://bit.ly/…
Reporter Emily Unglesbee contributed to this article.
Greg D. Horstmeier can be reached at email@example.com