State agriculture leaders are trying to get a pesticide problem under control that some say threatens current crops and the future of soybean farming in the state.
On Friday, the State Plant Board approved recommendations from the pesticide committee for stronger regulations of dicamba-containing pesticides. The regulations would restrict and limit the months of the year those chemicals could be used and require specialized training for new chemical technologies registered to be applied to genetically modified cotton soybeans that have resistance to the chemical.
Back in August, Working 4 You highlighted complaints that sprays containing the chemical dicamba were damaging soybeans because the spray was drifting on unintended targets. Farmers were allegedly using generic forms of dicamba on the fields they had planted with dicamba-resistant seed like the Monsanto Xtend brand.
So far, the State Plant Board has received 29 complaints of alleged off-label use of dicamba, which prompted the pesticide committee to recommend further regulations, balancing the needs of farmers to control a growing pig weed problem with protection for neighboring crops and the public.
“I commend the board for trying very, very hard to find a happy medium that allows us to use the technology and for it to move forward but hopefully clean up the mess we had out there last year,” said weed scientist and consultant Ford Baldwin after Friday’s meeting. “If we have another year like this past year on a nationwide scale we’re going to have a major train wreck. And we could be unable to grow soybeans in some fields in Arkansas in the next five to 10 years.”
Concerns about correct usage of dicamba chemicals involves not only the potential damage caused to nearby, non-resistant crops but the emergence of resistance to dicamba in pig weed already being detected in test plots.
“We want this technology to be used and rotated in,” Baldwin said. “We need every tool we can get. But if we eliminate one more tool in just a few years, we’re back to square one as an industry. That’s why training is so important with these new technologies. This is really a science-based issue. It’s the science of how these chemicals work and how they behave in certain conditions. It’s something we all need to be aware of.”
Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee reported an increase in dicamba complaints after Monsanto released its RoundUp Ready 2 Xtend soybean system this year. Those plants are dicamba-resistant and the system is meant to include a less-volatile herbicide to pair with it. The FDA approved the seed technology, but the herbicide’s approval is still pending before the EPA.
Still, farmers were told the plants were dicamba-resistant, so some farmers have chosen to use generic, older versions of the chemical on their crops. Those older versions are prone to drift and volatility, which has alleged to have caused damage in neighboring fields.
In the proposed new regulations, Monsanto’s herbicide would not be approved for use until the board felt it had enough research and data to feel comfortable with its being sprayed in the state. Under the proposed regulations, BASF’s dicamba chemical formulation known as Engenia would be the only formulation approved for use on those crops.
There will be a 30-day comment period that will culminate with a public hearing on the proposed regulations on November 21 at 1:30 p.m. at the State Plant Board. The governor’s office must also approve of any regulation change that the board would want to approve.