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Plant Board Leaves Dicamba Cutoff Unchanged, Strikes Reporting Requirements

Daniel Breen

State regulators have voted not to increase restrictions surrounding the use of a controversial herbicide that has been blamed for widespread damage to crops and other plants.

Members of the Arkansas State Plant Board met Wednesday to discuss new proposed regulations on dicamba for the 2020 growing season. All but one member voted to not require farmers who use the chemical on genetically modified cotton and soybean fields to report spraying records and real-time GPS coordinates to an online database.

Dicamba is used on genetically-modified cotton and soybeans, and has been blamed for damage to thousands of acres of non-tolerant crops since the board first began receiving complaints in 2016.

The number of complaints has fluctuated each year, with well over 600 complaints in 2017 prompting the board to ban the sale and use of the chemical temporarily.

Rachel Hurley, a lawyer with dicamba manufacturer Bayer CropScience (formerly Monsanto), told board members the reduced number of complaints for this growing season means newer formulations of the herbicide are causing less damage.

"In 2017, there were 1,312 [herbicide] complaints. In 2019, there were 459, which is a 65% reduction. More importantly, in 2017, only 15% of the complaints were found to involve an application of a low-volatility dicamba," Hurley said.

Researchers have presented evidence to board members at numerous meetings that dicamba can volatilize at higher temperatures, especially over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This can cause the chemical to drift onto non-tolerant plants and cause damage.

Dan Scheiman with Audubon Arkansas said the chemical's volatility means it should be regulated beyond current standards set by the Plant Board and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

"Given that all forms of dicamba are too volatile to allow spraying over the top of crops during warm weather, an April 15 cutoff is warranted above all else," Scheiman said. "Barring that, an 80 degree temperature restriction should go along with any later date cutoff." 

Of the 31 members of the public that commented at Wednesday's meeting, all were against the proposed dicamba rule. Some argued the board should impose an April 15 cutoff date to prevent damage.

Others, like Philips County grower Harry Stephens, said the regulations were too strict.

"We had everything planted in the month of March, and we got 14 inches of rain in 10 days, and when the 25th of May rolled around, we were still replanting and spraying. We need more time to spray dicamba and smaller buffers," Stephens said.

The cutoff for spraying will remain at May 25 for the 2020 growing season, and growers must maintain one-mile buffer zones around research stations, specialty and organic crops, and half-mile buffers around all other non-tolerant crops.

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