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Dealing with dicamba technology fallout in harvest season

All keeping eye on Nov. 8 Plant Board meeting

Sept. 21 Arkansas State Plant Board meeting ended with a vote to back an April 15 spraying cutoff date for 2018. The board also reviewed a Monsanto petition to reconsider the cutoff date and, through a unanimous vote, denied the company’s attempt while instructing legal staff to prepare a response.

The board’s next meeting will be held Nov. 8 and will be open to public comments. The weeks-long break in regulatory action, even while harvest season is in full swing, doesn’t mean the dicamba imbroglio has calmed.

“I’m expecting a huge turnout and a very lengthy meeting,” says Larry Jayroe, fertilizer/oil mill representative on the Arkansas State Plant Board. “We welcome that — everyone should be heard.”

As herbicide-resistant pigweed remains a major problem in the state, “there are growers who need new technologies. Some of them are looking at the (Xtend) technology as a key tool for in-season use.

“So, I expect a number of growers to come to the meeting and plead their case. Some may ask for one season (of dicamba use), to extend the cut-off spraying date, and I think we’ll hear a lot from folks who were damaged by drift this season and don’t want any more off-target movement.”

 

The Monsanto petition

No surprise, Monsanto — developer of dicamba-tolerant Xtend crops — is displeased with the Plant Board shifting its petition to the realm of lawyers.

“We’re very disappointed in what the Plant Board did,” says Scott Partridge, Monsanto vice president of global strategies. “We presented hundreds of pages of technical data, information, analyses of off-target movement in other states that showed with training and education this problem is solvable. The Plant Board didn’t consider any of the information we provided, didn’t — obviously, based on how quickly they made their decision — take into account the science testing, the data, the experiences from other states and simply, in an arbitrary fashion, decided to go forward with the April 15 (spraying) ban.”

What is the company’s next move?

“We’ll make the decision as quickly as we can,” says Partridge. “If there’s any chance we have to turn this around — either have the governor step in and do the right thing or other steps we can take which may involve going to court — to ensure this product is available with the proper education, training and tools and in growers’ hands in Arkansas, we’ll do it.”

Jayroe says the scientific evidence regarding dicamba is too voluminous to disregard. “The preponderance of evidence is that dicamba is volatile and we can’t control where we put it. That’s not only being reported by University of Arkansas researchers and scientists, some of the best in the world, but surrounding universities…

“The petition Monsanto sent us said we needed to respond (in 30 days). One response option was to deny the petition and in doing so, we’d have to answer the points they laid out.

Monsanto repeatedly uses the word “arbitrary” to describe the Plant Board’s dicamba-related decisions. Jayroe rejects the charge. “I think the board has been anything but arbitrary and capricious on this. We’ve been working for years on this. Someone said we’ve had over 30 meetings where the dicamba technology was discussed.

“The decision was based on sound science — exactly what the Plant Board is supposed to do; what the governor told us he wanted. So, I take exception to the charge of the board being arbitrary and capricious. I also take exception to (Monsanto) challenging and basically belittling the University of Arkansas scientists who’ve done excellent work on this. That’s been confirmed with university studies done in surrounding states as well as Illinois and others.”

 

The farmer petition

Shortly before the Sept. 21 meeting, a group of Arkansas growers started a petition of their own. Claiming 300-plus signatures representing some 1.25 million soybean acres in the state, they, too, want a reconsideration of the spraying cutoff date.

“We’re still adding names and acres to the petition list,” says Perry Galloway, a Jasper, Ark., producer involved in setting up the petition. “Some farmers went out on their own and made yard signs that say ‘Farmers need dicamba.’ We’re going to make some and distribute them ([email protected]), as well.

The Plant Board didn’t discuss the farmers’ petition at length on Sept. 21. That means the next forum for the group will be the public comment opportunity in early November.

“It went about like we expected,” continues Galloway. “That happened even with the sheer numbers involved with the petition. They said the meeting wasn’t the time and place for our petition. So, we’ll carry it over to November. If we do anything between now and then, it’ll be up to our attorney.”

One petition signer is Matt Miles, a 100-bushel soybean grower from McGehee, in southeast Arkansas’ Desha County.

“This is definitely a sensitive subject. In the end, though, I think this (dicamba-tolerant) technology is something we’re going to have to have,” says Miles. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have problems. I’m not sure dicamba drifts any worse than Roundup, but it sure shows symptoms worse than Roundup.

“I got some dicamba on some soybeans that still cut very good yields. Let me be honest: I didn’t have a bean in Desha County without some dicamba damage, but I still think the technology is worth sticking with.”

Does Miles think any restrictions should apply?

“If there’s got to be one, I’d be for a later cutoff date. I’d like a later cutoff date beyond late April, but we just don’t want to lose the technology completely.

“Unfortunately, this has caused a split in the farming community here. There’s strong support and also, understandably, strong opposition even down here.”

With harvest activity at a high pitch around his operation, Galloway says it’s imperative Arkansan agriculture understand what’s at stake with Xtend crops. And, he says, so far 2017 yields look just fine.

“Look, we all understand there are issues growing crops with this herbicide. Reports say yields have been affected, but everyone I’ve spoken with, even guys who’re anti-dicamba, says any yield reduction is negligible. In fact, this appears to be a great year for yields. Now, that doesn’t mean yield reductions haven’t happened, but I haven’t talked to anyone hit really hard.

“I just talked to a consultant whose client wanted to replant a dicamba drift field earlier this season. He talked the farmer out of it and says they just harvested a field with yields comparable to his non-injured fields, straight Roundup Ready beans, on the farm.

“So far, our Xtend yields look really good. We’ve almost hit that 100-bushel mark a couple of times. But we’re just getting started and are still harvesting rice. Like with everyone else — lots is going on.”

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