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Plant Board Votes to Curb Weedkiller

The state Plant Board on Friday voted to restrict the use of certain herbicides in the state after some farmers this summer illegally sprayed the weedkiller dicamba and damaged their neighbors’ crops.

The issue now goes up for a 30-day public comment period and then to a public hearing, which the board set for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 21. The governor and the state Legislature will have final say on whether the restrictions are put in place.

Except for one member who abstained because of a conflict of interest, the vote on each of the recommendations, listed below, was unanimous.

This summer, farmers were met with an onslaught of pigweed, which has increasingly grown resistant to herbicides such as Roundup. Dicamba, another readily available herbicide, is still somewhat effective against pigweed, but it is illegal to spray across cotton and soybean plants once they have emerged because the plants will suffer damage as well.

Some farmers this year planted new cotton and soybean seeds from Monsanto, the St. Louis-based seed conglomerate. The new genetically modified seeds produce plants that are tolerant of dicamba. However, the accompanying dicamba-based herbicides for the new seed traits haven’t yet been approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Farmers with the new Monsanto beans had a choice when pigweed overtook their fields: spray dicamba illegally or disk up their crops. Some chose to spray, which damaged adjacent non-GMO fields.

Friday, the board accepted with few questions and no debate the recommendations of its pesticide committee, which met on the issue five times over the summer. The board voted to:

 Ban the use of dicamba herbicides of dimethylamine (DMA) salt and acid formulations, except on pastures, but only if all susceptible crops are at least 1 mile away in all directions.

 Prohibit spraying of dicamba composed of diglycolamine (DGA) salt and sodium salt from April 15 through Sept. 15 — five key months of the growing season — except on pastures or rangeland, again with a 1-mile buffer.

 Require farmers who use a salt dicamba called Engenia, by BASF, on the new Monsanto cotton and soybeans to have a quarter-mile downwind buffer zone and 100-foot buffer in all other directions. Research by the University of Arkansas System’s Agriculture Division has shown that Engenia is less volatile than other salt dicambas.

 Require anyone who uses any of the DGA-based herbicides on genetically modified seed by Dow Chemical Co. or Monsanto to be trained and certified through an Internet program that likely will be modeled after one set up by agriculture experts at Mississippi State University.

The board also voted unanimously to place in writing that the Plant Board has the right to seek any research from any entity as it determines whether to register a pesticide for use in Arkansas. That measure was a nod to UA researchers, who say they haven’t been allowed by Monsanto to conduct any research on the proposed herbicides for the new seed traits.

Monsanto representatives have opposed the measures, saying they limit farmers’ choices.

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