LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas lawmakers approved new rules restricting the use of a pesticide linked to a deadly dispute between farmers earlier this year and the source of numerous crop complaints.
After a presentation from Arkansas State Plant Board Executive Director Terry Walker, the legislative committee tasked with approving agency rules allowed the changes to move forward. According to Walker’s testimony at the committee, this is the culmination of five years of research, work and coordination with companies that were attempting to develop new herbicide technologies to respond to an ongoing pigweed crisis.
According to Walker, two of the three companies that were developing the new technologies that utilized old formulations of pesticides that could impact susceptible crops participated in allowing UA weed scientists to review and test the new chemical formulations. According to Walker, Monsanto declined to make its proposed product available for independent analysis and data collection, essentially leaving the Plant Board to “operate blind” as to the effects its proposed dicamba chemical formulation would have in the state.
To date, according to Walker, Monsanto has not made the chemical available and the only third-party research the company provided was actually paid for and at the request of the company.
“The Plant Board has taken the position that does not suffice for independent third-party research,” Walker told the committee. “The unwritten protocol to have a new pesticide approved was always third-party research and review. Now, this would make it part of the actual application process, specifying what’s required to have a product approved in Arkansas.”
Under the new rules, Monsanto’s version of dicamba — an old chemical herbicide known to be prone to drift off target and damage susceptible crops — would not be approved for over-the-top crop use at this time. It could only be sprayed outside the prime growing season, to protect susceptible plants until research could be conducted to determine its likelihood to drift and the risk of volatility.
The company has claimed that the new formulation is less likely to do both. According to Walker, UA scientists should be able to gain access to the chemical, now that it has received a label from the EPA, to test the formulation independently. Once scientists have been able to conduct those in-field tests, the future of the chemical’s use could then be determined by the board.
“If the new formulation lives up to its claims,” Walker said. “The rules could be modified by the board to allow the chemical to be used. It would depend on the outcome of those tests and whether the data supports the company’s claims.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson approved the board’s recommended changes, while requesting Plant Board staff develop specific, written requirements regarding third party data or independent research as a contingency for approval.
The dicamba issue has created tensions between farmers throughout Arkansas and other states. Working 4 You has covered the issue extensively, to read more click the headlines at the right of the page.