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Battle Over Herbicide Dicamba Continues in Arkansas

Pigweed siphons nutrients and sunlight away from soybean crops, and is resistant to most herbicides. (Adobe Stock)
Pigweed siphons nutrients and sunlight away from soybean crops, and is resistant to most herbicides. (Adobe Stock)
September 30, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- An Arkansas farmer says he suspects retaliation for speaking out against use of the herbicide dicamba.

Dicamba is used to kill weeds in soybean fields, but when applied in summer heat and humidity, the chemical can drift and damage other crops and plants. It's estimated 3 million acres of cropland nationwide were damaged from pesticide drift in 2017, a year that saw more than 1,000 dicamba complaints in Arkansas. This year, the Arkansas State Plant Board placed a May 25 cut-off date on use of the herbicide.

Board chairman Terry Fuller, a soybean and corn farmer, said that when he testified at the Legislature about farmers illegally spraying past the deadline, two tractors on his property were vandalized.

"That was Aug. 17, that night, after I testified at Little Rock to the Joint Ag legislative committee, senators and representatives. And then Sept. 17, I presented again," he said. "Before I got out of town, the town of Little Rock, they were sending me a picture of 367 bales of hay on fire."

He said the damage totals $80,000. One study found dicamba can be detected in the air as many as three days after crops are sprayed. This summer, a Ninth Circuit Court judge ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency, requiring the agency to place restrictions on its use and ban sales.

Under state law, farmers illegally spraying dicamba can be fined $25,000 for each violation. Fuller said he's unfazed by the intimidation tactics, but is concerned that some farmers apparently aren't concerned about their neighbors.

"I'm wondering where our moral compass in this country has gone," he said. "How you can think it's right to spray something and you don't know which way it's going to go, days after you apply it. That's what the research scientists have said about this product from the beginning."

Until now, said Jason Keith Norsworthy, a distinguished professor of soil, crop and environmental science in the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, soybean farmers have had few alternatives to get rid of invasive species such as pigweed.

"Now, in soybeans, dicamba was really the only herbicide that could be used. Because of herbicide-resistant weeds that we have in the field, there really was no option for those growers that chose to plant dicamba soybeans," he said. "But today, there are several technologies that are out there."

Bayer, a company that has created genetically modified varieties of soybeans and cotton designed to tolerate dicamba, is expected to ask the EPA to put the herbicide back on the market for the 2021 growing season.

The study is online at ipm.missouri.edu, the text of the lawsuit is at usrtk.org, and the Arkansas Plant Board rule is at agriculture.arkansas.gov.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - AR