(Beyond Pesticides, December 2, 2016) Last week, the Arkansas Plant Board voted 12-0 to push measures that would ban or limit the use of certain forms of the toxic herbicide dicamba in the state. The hearing was called to address proposals that the board released for public comment on September 30, such as banning certain formulations of dicamba outright, creating restrictions on the time of year that other formulations of the herbicide can be used, and creating buffer zones in certain situations. This decision comes on the heels of a newly registered formulation of dicamba by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and widespread reports of crop damage across the Midwest and Southeast due to the illegal use of dicamba before it was registered.
According to DTN Progressive Farmer, the three-hour public meeting was packed with almost 200 people, and approximately 20 of those testified. The testimonies highlighted the disputes and tensions that have arisen over the use of dicamba, as many remembered and spoke about Mike Wallace, a farmer who was tragically murdered on October 27 during an argument with a fellow farmer in Missouri over the illegal use of the chemical and subsequent crop damage. âWeâve seen exactly what the old formulations are capable of, and there’s not enough research to prove the new formulations will not do the same,” stated Bradley Wallace, son of the late Mike Wallace. Another Arkansas farmer testified that he could visually identify 600 acres of soybeans that had been damaged by dicamba drift, estimating a $70,000 loss of income. Others testified that farmers were beginning to plant Xtend soybeans, which are genetically engineered (GE) to withstand dicamba applications, as a defensive move, as they were worried drift from neighboring farmers would hurt their crops and income. The Plant Board received 245 written comments during the public comment period, with 192 writers expressing support for the restrictions proposed, and 33 requesting a ban of all dicamba products. Only five comments expressed opposition to the proposed restrictions. During the hearing, there was also widespread support to increase the fine associated with illegal spraying, but that would require additional legislation.
In October, EPA launched a criminal investigation at several locations in Missouri into the illegal spraying allegations, based on complaints about damage across Missouri and several nearby states. The complaints allege damage to more than 41,000 acres of soybeans, and other crops including peaches, tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupe, rice, purple-hull peas, peanuts, cotton and alfalfa, as well as to residential gardens, trees and shrubs.
Pesticide drift is an inevitable problem of pesticide application, and dicamba drift and subsequent crop injury to broadleaf crops has been a frequent problem. Abnormal leaf growth, floral development, reduced yield, and reduced quality have all been observed from dicamba drift. Â AÂ study published by Pennsylvania State scientistsÂ in late 2015 found dicamba drift was âfrequently responsible for sublethal, off-target damageâ to plants and insects. Researchers find that even very low rates of dicamba herbicide exposure negatively affected plant flowering, and thus insect pollination. Dicamba has also been linked to damage of the kidney and liver, neurotoxicity, and developmental impacts. Historically, to mitigate against potential risks from pesticide drift, EPA has required buffer zones and application restrictions. However, these have not been sufficient to alleviate off-site crop damage and environmental contamination. Additionally, as demonstrated with these incidents, there are challenges with pesticide product label compliance.
The use of other highly volatile herbicides like 2,4-D on GE crops also presents growing pesticide drift concerns in light ofÂ 2,4-D tolerant GE varieties. Formulations of 2,4-D have been marketed as a âsolutionâ for the control of glyphosate-resistant weeds brought on by the widespread use of the chemical on glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) crops over the last decade. These super weeds now infest tens of millions of acres of U.S. farmland. 2,4-D is linked to non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL), and is also neurotoxic, genotoxic, and an endocrine disruptor. Both of these herbicides, when associated with GE crops, are formulated with glyphosate, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has identified as probably carcinogenic to humans based upon laboratory animal studies.
While the Arkansas Plant Boardâs decision is a step in the right direction, there is still more work to be done. The proposals now go to the Arkansas governor for considerations, and will eventually be brought before a legislative committee for a final decision, said Terry Walker, director of the Arkansas State Plant Board, in a statement to DTN Progressive Farmer. Ultimately, this problem will need to be addressed on a structural scale, as chemical-intensive farmers will need to diversify the crops they plant and implement other cultural practices to deter weeds, such as cover crops, crop rotation, and intercropping. Food distribution systems will also need to shift to accommodate greater diversity in farmer fields. Organic agriculture represents a time-tested approach to managing weeds and avoiding resistance problems that plague GE cropping systems. With organic, the use of toxic synthetic herbicides and GE seeds is prohibited, and farmers must craft an organic system plan aimed at improving soil health and managing pests and weeds should they arise.
Source: DTN Progressive Farmer
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.