Dicamba drift dispute cited in murder charge for Missouri man

By Stephen Davies

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 2016 - Hundreds of cases of crop damage allegedly caused by off-label use of dicamba have prompted a federal criminal investigation. In October, EPA sought and received permission to search for evidence at locations in four southeastern Missouri counties.

Now, however, the drift damage has claimed a human victim. Allan Curtis Jones of Arbyrd, Missouri, was arraigned Tuesday on charges of first-degree murder in the Oct. 27 shooting death of farmer Mike Wallace of Monette, Arkansas, just over the Missouri border.

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The two had met to discuss a dispute over spray drift damage, Mississippi County, Arkansas, investigators said. In a statement, the county sheriff's department said Wallace was unarmed. Jones was released after posting bail, which had been set at $150,000.

Tom Barber, a weed scientist with the University of Arkansas's Cooperative Extension Service, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the shooting is “sitting heavily on all of us. It's just a sad state of affairs.”

The week of Oct. 10, EPA special agents served federal search warrants at several locations in southeastern Missouri. The agency's probe “stems from widespread complaints of damage to various crops across Missouri and several other states in the Midwest and Southeast,” including Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Missouri's Department of Agriculture has received more than 100 drift complaints, mostly in Cape Girardeau, Dunklin, New Madrid, and Stoddard counties. “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.”

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The problems started this summer when some farmers planted dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton, which have been approved for use, but followed that with in-season applications of formulations containing dicamba.

“Current allowable uses for dicamba products are restricted to pre-plant and post-harvest burndown applications,” EPA said. “Dicamba is a highly volatile herbicide that is prone to move off target by the way of drift or through vapor volatility.”

Last year, USDA approved the dicamba-tolerant seed technology for cotton, soybean and corn “in order to assist farmers in controlling glyphosate-resistant weeds. The new technology formulations of dicamba are supposed to reduce off-target movement if used in accordance with the product labels. However, EPA has not yet approved the new dicamba technology for use on the new dicamba-tolerant crops.”

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