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Arkansas Agriculture Officials To Reconsider Restrictions On Controversial Herbicide

David Wildy, a prominent Arkansas farmer, in a field of soybeans that were damaged by dicamba.
Dan Charles
NPR News

The State Plant Board will meet next Wednesday to reconsider a ban on a controversial weed killer that has divided Arkansas’s farming community. The meeting is in response to a request for changes by a subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council for restrictions in the use of dicamba during next year’s growing season.

The herbicide can be sprayed on crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate it, but is blamed for widespread damage to neighboring non-resistant crops.

"It has quite literally divided our state’s farming community and it’s a very sad position to be in in terms of trying to make the best decision for everyone that unfortunately is not going to please everyone no matter what happens," said Adriane Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

The State Plant Board voted during a public hearing on Nov. 8 to ban the use of dicamba next year, with a few exceptions, from April 16 to Oct. 31.

Monsanto executive Ty Vaughn speaking at a meeting of the Arkansas State Plant Board in September.
Credit Dan Charles / NPR News
NPR News
Monsanto executive Ty Vaughn speaking at a meeting of the Arkansas State Plant Board in September.

About a thousand farmers in Arkansas have filed formal complaints of damage caused by dicamba drifting from neighboring fields. But Monstanto, one of the companies that makes the weed killer, is accusing the board of ignoring scientific evidence and preemptively filed a lawsuit in October to stop the ban from taking effect.

At a Dec. 12 hearing for final approval of the change, the Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council suggested several revisions to the restrictions for the plant board to consider. Those include using scientific-based evidence, a dividing line to create north and south zones, and considering “ambient temperature and humidity applicable to temperature inversion during night-time hours." 

After announcing next week’s meeting, Barnes told KUAR News that members of the board will again consider if the planned ban is the right action to take.

"As everyone understands, dicamba is a very complicated, complex issue because it has had both negative and positive effects on Arkansas farmers and farmers across the U.S., so the subcommittee is just trying to rule out any other options before we move forward with such stringent regulatory changes," Barnes said.

Potential revisions will be discussed Wednesday, Jan. 3 at a Pesticide Committee meeting that begins at 10 a.m., followed by a meeting of the full State Plant Board at 1 p.m. The meetings will be held at the Arkansas State Plant Board Office, 1 Natural Resources Drive in Little Rock. Agendas and other information can be found here.

"The plant board remains committed to doing what’s best for Arkansas farmers, as does the legislature and the governor and everyone else at the Arkansas Agriculture Department," Barnes said.

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