After months of meetings, and over 2,500 public comments, the Arkansas Plant Board finally decided what to do about dicamba in the 2019 planting season.
As Liza Gross reports in Fern’s Ag Insider, The Board went against the recommendations of state weed scientists, and the vast majority of the members of the public who provided input, when they decided in a 9-6 vote to loosen restrictions on the controversial herbicide.
The new dicamba formulations were EPA-approved in 2016 (and again in 2018) for use with the Xtend line of glyphosate and dicamba-resistant soybeans. Despite industry promises that the new herbicides would be way less volatile than their predecessors, recent science, and recent history over the past three years, has shown that the new formulations volatilize easily.
Millions of acres have been damaged, many of them in Arkansas, which has consistently been one of the states hardest hit by dicamba drift. They have also had some of the most restrictive local requirements for dicamba applicators, including an emergency ban in the midst of the 2017 season.
This year, the plant board proposed loosening of restrictions on dicamba use. They did so by adding one more month to the time-window farmers can spray the herbicide, by extending the spray deadline to May 25th. Given that warmer temperatures make dicamba more prone to drift, the extension later into the season will increase the risk of damage to neighboring areas where non-resistant soybeans or other vulnerable crops and vegetation is growing.
Many of those who commented were there to support the state’s organic industry, which is particularly threatened by herbicide drift because pesticide contamination can result not just in crop damage, but also loss of certification. The new rule does require a one-mile buffer between dicamba-treated fields and certified organic crops (and government/university research stations).
The Plant Board received more than 2,600 public comments about the proposed ruling. Of those, 2,248 were in opposition to the later cutoff date.
Several citizens testified in person at the February 20th meeting, including Richard Coy, who used to sell honey in Arkansas. “My family has made the decision to relocate…because it is not profitable to keep bees on a commercial scale in this state anymore,” he told the Board (Gross, 2019).
Also present was David Wildy, who farms cotton, soybeans, and other crops in northeastern Arkansas, “ground zero for dicamba drift complaints.” He testified that he hasn’t seen any “technical or scientific data presented in previous meetings, nor here today, that would support a decision to move the dicamba cutoff date…” later in May (Gross, 2019).
Weed scientists also explained to the Plant Board that a growing body of evidence is demonstrating that “the new dicamba formulations continue to volatilize for at least four days after application at levels sufficient to injure soybeans.” In stark contrast to company claims that applicator training has eliminated drift risk, he testified that “dicamba movement is beyond the control of any applicator in this room” (Gross, 2019; emphasis added by Hygeia).
The Board’s decision will give Bayer and its industry partners another year to conduct applicator training sessions, including assistance for applicators trying to make sense of the long, complicated label on the newly formulated herbicide products containing dicamba. Since dicamba will now be sprayed in one of the hardest-hit states later in the season when high temperatures will lead to higher risk of volatilization, the potential for drift events will inevitably rise.
Since many farmers in the regions most impacted by dicamba drift have already caved to the pressure and made the switch to Xtend soybeans, other broadleaf vines, trees, and fruit and vegetable crops are likely to bear the brunt of dicamba-drift damage this year. We will, as always, keep you posted as the planting season gets underway in a few weeks.
NOTE: We have been on top of this issue since they beginning. See our full coverage for much more.
Liza Gross, “Arkansas approves expanded dicamba use, dismissing scientific and public concerns,” Fern’s Ag Insider, Date published: February 21, 2019; Date accessed: February 22, 2019.