The Arkansas State Plant Board – after hours of public hearings, questions and answers from experts and numerous attempts – passed a motion that will allow dicamba usage through May 25, with a one-half mile buffer zone for non-tolerant dicamba crops.
With its approval, the rule change will now be submitted to the Joint Budget Committee’s Administrative Rule and Regulation Review Subcommittee. That meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, then, if approved, would then head to the Joint Budget Committee for review, then finally on to the Secretary of State.
That lengthy process mirrors the Wednesday meeting that took nearly 10 hours to complete and had hundreds of people on hand to air their views on dicamba usage, a hot topic in the state.
The Plant Board received a total of 2,647 comments for the meeting, with 2,248 against dicamba. Those who spoke on Wednesday – a curious mix of about 70 farmers, naturalists, environmentalists and one novelist and former “amateur beekeeper – were also mostly against dicamba usage as they cited the mountain of scientific evidence about the dangers to other plant and insect life.
While those for dicamba were best summed up by Allen Hales, a farmer in western Arkansas whose property butts up against the Oklahoma state line.
“We have to have yield,” he said.
And that’s the rub: dicamba is effective.
When properly applied and used with dicamba-resistant seed, the herbicide does exactly what it is supposed to – kill pigweed and increase soybean production.
The problems are two-fold though.
One is drift, as noted by Joe Lee, a pecan grower and former member of the Plant Board.
“My crop yield was expected to be 45,000 pounds,” he said. “It was actually 20,000 and when I took a look at it, it was dicamba drift from 45 miles away.”
Jason Norsworthy, a professor at the University of Arkansas, said dicamba performed differently at the higher temperatures and humidity of an Arkansas summer, which led to the problems of drift.
It was that dicamba drift that led to the murder of Monette farmer Mike Wallace, after an altercation with Allan Jones, of Arbyrd, Mo. Jones was later found guilty of homicide and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The other issue was what it did to other native plants, like red vine, said Richard Coy, a beekeeper in Craighead County who has made national headlines after his Coy’s Honey Farm was profiled by Reveal News in an article co-published in Wired Magazine.
“I ask you to vote no,” Coy said and added his bees feast on red vine, most familiar to farmers as the weed lining fence rows. Red vine blossomed near those farms as they had a constant source of water from irrigation run-off, making them ideal for bees as they buzzed around for pollen and nectar.
Coy, who got emotional during his time speaking, said he was moving operations to Mississippi to get away from Arkansas’s dicamba use.
Also speaking against dicamba was novelist Mara Leveritt who described herself as a former amateur beekeeper in addition to her writing duties.
“We ask you to take in the whole picture,” she told the board as she implored them not to just look at the needs of row crop farmers, “but the totality of our state.”
The Plant Board clearly struggled with its decision but, also, if they didn’t make a decision, then regulations on dicamba use would stay in place.
The Plant Board’s reality was best summed up by Barrett Brothers, a Mississippi County rice and soybean farmer: “No one is going to be happy with your decision.”
Now, it is in the Legislature’s hands.