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Daily News Blog

20
Jun

Arkansas Moves Towards Emergency Ban of Herbicide Dicamba Following Crop Damage from Drift

(Beyond Pesticides, June 20, 2017) As Pollinator Week 2017 kicks off, the Arkansas State Plant Board’s (ASPB) Pesticide Committee coincidentally voted unanimously to recommend a ban on the use and sale of the habitat-eliminating herbicide dicamba in the state. Motivated by the crop damage caused by dicamba drift on to neighboring cropland, the full ASPB is expected to issue its recommendation today, which, if passed, will be sent to Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) for final approval.

The move is the latest in a series of crises that began when multinational chemical company Monsanto began selling soybeans genetically engineered (GE) to tolerate dicamba without its accompanying herbicide, leading to off-label uses of older dicamba products. The growth of herbicide use in genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops is contributing to a loss of habitat for pollinators. Of particular note is the loss of milkweed habitat caused by herbicide drift. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Approach to Identifying Options for Protecting the Monarch Butterfly (June 24, 2015), “Numerous publications have highlighted the importance of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.) as a critical food resource for monarch butterfly larvae (Danaus plexippus L.), and have emphasized the importance of conservation of milkweed to preserve monarch butterfly populations.” At the same time, honey bee colonies in Arkansas experienced declines over 50% between 2015 and 2016, with other Southern states experiencing similar reports.

More than 87 complaints about dicamba label violations have been filed with ASPB this year, over double the complaints filed last year. “I hate that it’s come to this, but we have to do our jobs,” said Dennie Stokes, a Pesticide Committee member on ASPB and the operator of a crop dusting company, to KUAR. “I don’t know where we’re headed with this, but I don’t see any way to make it work. It’s just a problem that no one can solve,” said Danny Finch, a cotton and soybean farmer from Craighead County to KUAR.

Despite the lamentations of the conventional agriculture industry, the ongoing crisis is a direct result of a chemical-intensive food production paradigm. GE soy farmers have begun to move to new forms of GE crops after widespread weed resistance to glyphosate (Roundup) has developed over the past decade. According to the international survey of herbicide resistant weeds, 37 species of weeds throughout the world are now resistant to glyphosate, with the proliferative, albeit common, pigweed being the biggest resistance problem for chemical-intensive farmers in Arkansas and the region.

Critics have challenged policy makers to rethink the wisdom of an agricultural system reliant on outside chemical inputs, and destined to result in weed resistance, as the chemical industry decided to add older, more toxic chemicals to the mix. The latest GE soybean varieties are now tolerant of either herbicides dicamba (Monsanto and BASF’s products) or 2,4-D (Dow AgroScience’s product). While Monsanto received allowances from federal regulators to sell its dicamba-tolerant soy and cotton seeds, it had not yet received EPA approval for a dicamba formulation that claimed to be lower volatility. And although the company asked farmers not to use older dicamba herbicides with the new seeds, ASPB’s move appears directly related to rampant herbicide misuse throughout the state and the region.

Dicamba use has stirred up fights between neighbors in a number of agricultural communities. Bader Farms, which grows over 110,00 peach trees on over 1,000 acres in Missouri, is suing Monsanto after its insurance company issued a refusal to pay for damages caused by off-label dicamba drift from surrounding farms. Earlier this month, University of Arkansas’ agricultural research station had over 100 acres of soybeans ruined from nearby dicamba use. Shockingly, NPR reports that last October a dispute over dicamba drift led to the murder of one Arkansas farmer.

The rampant use of this highly volatile chemical has been a factor in regional pollinator losses. A 2015 study published by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that off-target damage from dicamba drift resulted in adverse effects on pollinator populations. The impacts were directly related to the effect dicamba has on pollinator-friendly plants, with dicamba-exposed plants negatively influencing flowering and pollen quality.

Many Arkansas farmers don’t see a way forward. “We’ve got guys out there that need the technologies and have flat out told us, ‘if I don’t have these new technologies, I can’t do anything in the field, I’ve got to let it go,” said Wes Ward, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture to KUAR. Advocates say that if elected officials and government regulators continue to fail to provide adequate incentives for the farming community to break out of a cycle of pesticide-dependency, problems like those Arkansas is experiencing are certain to continue.

As residents throughout the country take action for pollinator week, consider the bigger picture by supporting organic agriculture. By statute, organic farms are tasked with fostering soil ecology, and never allow the use of toxic synthetic herbicides or genetically engineered cropping systems. To protect pollinators from drift that destroys their habitat, support and buy organic whenever possible.

UPDATE:

The [full] Arkansas State Plant Board late Tuesday rejected the proposed ban on the spraying of the pesticide dicamba in the state. It agreed to limit the chemical’s use to sprayers that feature a hood, which prevents drift, and also required a one-mile downwind buffer between the next farm.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: KUAR

 

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